Who Are You Wearing?

Who Are You Wearing?

She returns to the gallery after more than a decade. Her last exhibition, Infernal Desires, a dark dynamic fusion of fashion, sculpture and painting to create wearable and interactive art, was presented in 2005. Now, Yvonne Quisumbing presents a noticeably subdued collection. Who Are You Wearing? comprises monochromatic portraits without faces. Substituting textures for features, the elaborate details plot her preoccupation/occupation–exquisite masks of horns, rhinestones, textile, feathers, butterflies, florals, et al. Fashion, before appropriated by notions of style, pertains to physical composition (façon). She delves on the etymology of the word that has defined her art/craft, exploring perceptions on the instability of the visible image/imaging as mediator of social relationships, that ultimately comprise the spectacular/society wherein she operates as a fashion/designer.

While the flamboyance of the head regalias imbues a phantasmagorical patina on the whole collection, the fact is that these are real people. Borrowing from mythological, astrological and biblical metanarratives—the artist gives each faceless portrait a name and a corresponding narrative and symbolism to represent actual persons. “Tame”, for example, shows a dressage horse for a face, referring to an individual who “sticks to the rules she made for herself, no matter what.” “Ado” refers to the wife who looked back and became a pillar of salt. Here, the tragic character assumes the notorious stance. But instead of salt, Quisumbing encrusts her with another kind of rock. “Wife” is similarly bejeweled, pointing to the artist’s personal signification of gems as valued burdens. Blooms and plumes are integrated generously in all the facades, lending a soft protean touch to the volumes, portentous of a possibility of further billowing. The robust horns, meanwhile, provide a semblance of structure, holding together, albeit precariously, the cornucopias.

Quisumbing’s approach to representation is accessible, utilizing stock symbols that are easily decodable. The point is not to confound but to reach out. She uses these stereotypes to weave masks made up of masses of heterogenous texts—a kind rationalization for the inclination to pretension. Projections are driven by a mixture of complexities, which she visualizes, without judgment, as a grey density—never black nor white. The tendency to cover up is natural—as is the penchant to adorn one’s self to compensate. All is well and understood, that is until the mask becomes the face itself. And this is where the artist’s question hangs heavy.

The masked faces pertain to a threatened breakdown between image and creator, wherein the posturing becomes the portrait itself. Where the distinction between the subject and object—between the self and the other—is at stake, the expected human reaction is that of horror. And yet, in her space, this has become a celebration of ingenuity and beauty. Seen as such, this collection becomes a translation of the tradition of superfluity as fluidity in form, fusing man and design to thoroughly collapse identity. Quisumbing’s paintings perform as thoughtful documentation and critique of a contemporary condition of exasperating homogeneity peddled by the fashion superstructure, which she herself is a purveyor. Hence the tentativeness of the question.

Who are you wearing?” comes out as if told in apology, or pure curiousity, or invitation to reflection, or rebuke, or damnation. The wide spectrum covered by the query covers the equally wide spectrum of disturbances associated with question, whether pertaining to the objectification of women’s bodies, commodification of individuality, or the myth of freedom of choice. Who Are You Wearing? invites the audience to look beyond the brand/façade and mull on the decay of order, system, borders, rules and positions, all of which she conjures as composites of compositions—prettified struggles wherein the opulence of the minutae overwhelm, balanced and/or internalized by individuals who carry the weight with dignified solemnity.

The question assumes the worst. The fusion is complete. As familiarity is wont to do with the beloved, Quisumbing teases the abject out of the beautiful, dissolving subject and object to bare her hollow hallowed.

Adjani Arumpac