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Wearing art on our shirtsleeves

By Maxwell Price

Section: Arts

September 19, 2008

Pictured here, a large jacket sculpture created by Leslie Wilcox, which depicts ridig yet shyly feminine forms, sits on display Thursday, in the &qout;Dress - Redress&quot art exhibit at the Brandeis University Women's Studies Research Center.<br /><br /><i>PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Pictured here, a large jacket sculpture created by Leslie Wilcox, which depicts ridig yet shyly feminine forms, sits on display Thursday, in the &qout;Dress - Redress&quot art exhibit at the Brandeis University Women's Studies Research Center.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Max Shay/The Hoot

Curator Lisa Lynch stands within a hanging installation, by Carol Hamoy, at the "Dress - Redress" art exhibit in the Women's Studies Reasearch Center, on Thursday. This piece consits of personal narratives printed on dirty white dresses, which were then hung from the ceiling inside the exhibit.<br /><br /><i>PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Curator Lisa Lynch stands within a hanging installation, by Carol Hamoy, at the "Dress - Redress" art exhibit in the Women's Studies Reasearch Center, on Thursday. This piece consits of personal narratives printed on dirty white dresses, which were then hung from the ceiling inside the exhibit.

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by Max Shay/The Hoot

We flaunt it. We argue about it. We search for it. We cover our bodies in it. But how often do we consider the significance of clothes in forming our identities and shaping our societies?

The art exhibit, Dress · Redress, at the Women’s Studies Research Center just gave the Brandeis community another reason to ponder those issues. The exhibition, on display from June 19-September 25th, examines how the clothing intersects with identity through the crosscutting lenses of gender, religion, culture, family, and trauma. The show was curated by Lisa Lynch and features a diverse array of contemporary artists from around the country.

On Thursday the Center hosted a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibit entitled, “(Un)Dressing Religion, Culture & Identity.” This panel featured Lisa Fishbayne, director of the Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law at the Haddasah-Brandeis Institute; Ellen Schattschneider, associate professor of anthropology and women’s and gender studeis at Brandeis; and Eric Silverman, a visiting research associate at the Women’s Studies Research Center.

Fishbayne discussed the Jewish tradition of female head-covering and its tensions in American society. She ultimately concluded that women have multifarious reasons for carrying out these rituals that society buries beneath oversimplified labels such as state repression and religious law.

The audience seemed most enthralled with Schattschneider’s description of her fieldwork in Japan studying grieving practices in Japan among families whose children had passed away. The stories were both highly moving and disturbing, chronicling such personal coping mechanisms as one mother’s insistence on wearing her son’s clothing after his death.

Silverman brought an irreverant and raucous tone to his presentation, which explored Jewish identity through clothing, particularly among the “New Jew” movement of the twenty first century. If you have ever seen “100% kosher” panties or visited www.jewlo.com, you already know what Silverman was talking about.

Yet no matter how interesting or controversial the discussion became, the artwork in Dress · Redress stole the show with its sensory explorations of our “social skin.” The highlights include large scale sculptural works by Leslie Wilcox that depict jackets and coats as highly rigid yet slyly feminine and sexual forms; an installation of Carol Hamoy’s hanging, dirty, white dresses and blouses printed with real women’s personal narratives; and Sandra Eula Lee’s shirts created out of office supplies and official-looking documents. Each artist tackles the topic of clothing from a different perspective, melding personal experiences with the constraints of social structures.

So keep on flaunting it, arguing about it, and searching for it. But if you’ve ever pondered the greater meaning embodied in the things you drape over your body, head over to the Women’s Studies Research Center in the Epstein Building to explore Dress · Redress while you still have the chance.

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