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Deeper than SKIN

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

March 18, 2005

I knew this would be a tough assignment. What do I know about fashion? What would it have to do with the shows stated purpose of countering stereotypes about Asian-Pacific Americans? With these doubts I sat down to SKIN/InspirAsian last Saturday in the Levin Ballroom. It didnt matter that the audience was small. They connected.

In the lobby, paintings by Sam Tan depicted east-Asian mountain motifs against brightly colored backgrounds. It was an appealing visual mixture of old and new, a theme that would carry throughout the show.

The first exhibition, by designer Shin Choi, followed on the heels of a slide-show preview. Outfits had a silky sheen with a distinctly Western style. Students appeared, paraded down a runway, paused, posed, and radiated. At this point the rising emotion could be felt as friends cheered:

Yeah, Wendy! We love you!

Manisha Shahane, a talented vocalist and keyboardist, followed with a concert in English and the Indian language Marathi, delivering a veiled rebuttal to ethnic preconceptions in her lyrics: You dont know what Im feeling Later she sang, every day I am getting closer to where the ocean greets the sky, seemingly a reference to perennial hopes and dreams.

The next fashion display was by ourtneycourtney, featuring solid-color outfits punctuated by patches with words and logos. Again, cheers:

Yeah, Monica! You go, girl!

I got the point with the next presentation, a song-set by Vudoo Soul, who spoke of break-ups: I cant set you free from my mindnot yet. It seemed a fittingly poignant lamentation for anyone who has left behind a country and way of life. Then he sang a number that hit home: Who do I look like to you? Im an Asian and well-to-do? Now we were together in that rare land where the Jew like me is no stranger.

All I see is a fictional place thats deeper than you, deeper than me, rang his lyrics. Thats it! I understood the show. Just as we must look deeper to understand each other, so it was for the show itself. If the performances appeared disconnected, they served to reflect each of us, distinct as individuals, yet in aggregate a beautiful tapestry;

an affirmation of Asian-Pacific Americans, and indeed all cultures.

Designers Baby Phat and Twinkle followed, and then Vinh Huas poetry offerings presented scathing condemnations of stereotypes. When he spoke of the overachieving model minority myth, my own story was being told once more. Yet, in answer to the stigma of success, he reflected: If she succeedsthat will give us all a little bit of hope. And on that upbeat note, designer Colleen Quen wrapped up the show with the nights most elegant dresses as the models assembled in a climactic finish.

My words fail me in trying to describe the fashions, but no words would have done them justice. Try instead to imagine the pride and dignity on the faces of those who wore them. Imagine a people moving ever closer to where the ocean greets the sky, a place that is deeper than you or me. That should indeed give us all a little bit of hope.

This event was co-sponsored by Brandeis Pluralism Alliance and Student Events for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

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