Last week I saw the American artist Patssi Valdez speak at the Nottingham Contemporary Gallery about her 'papers fashion' project. The evening culminated in a short fashion show featuring four quite amazing outfits, predominantly made from paper.
Valdez was part of Asco, a Chicano art collective in LA which was active in the 70s and 80s. Their work was primarily performance-based and was underpinned by the racial politics facing the Mexican community in the USA. In her time with the group Valdez fabricated increasingly complex and exuberant outfits as a reaction to the 'Vogue' high-end fashion culture unattainable to poor immigrants. She and her companions performed in public and staged site-specific works which challenged the social and racial structures into which their community had settled.
Valdez' outfits exhibit the cheerful colours of Central American pop art and, like the religious art of the region, re-appropriate cheap ephemera into playful decoration. For the Contemporary exhibition Valdez has created a selection of new costumes. They have an incredible graphic quality, with their hard lines and rigid structures. The photos below show the models against a projected cyclorama (itself a design rendered in India ink).
While the conversation with the artist provided a window into Veldez' emotional and social approach to her art, her political motivations were less evident. A question which might be interesting to pose is the connection between Asco's works and the Vogueing dance style which evolved in the Black and immigrant community in Harlem in the 80s. Both groups of people faced broadly similar challenges and, in the face of exclusion from high-end culture, reappropriated facets of it using cheap materials.