Meet Hannah, an amateur textile artist and illustrator, with a passion for feminism. In this episode, Hannah discussed with us how she uses her artwork for the showcasing and empowerment of women and took us on a virtual tour through her ‘White Dress’ Project.
To me, empowering body types and showcasing women through art means looking at the complicated relationships women have with their bodies. One of my favourite moments in the second series of Fleabag is when Kristen Scott poignantly says: “Women are born with pain built in. It’s our physical destiny. Period pains, sore boobs, childbirth, you know. We carry it within ourselves throughout our lives.”
Beyond physical discomfort, the pain that is manifest in socio-cultural pressures on women’s bodies is by no means a new dialogue. As the intersectionality of western feminism widens, so does recognition of the psychological impacts “beauty standards” have on young people. While “beauty” itself seems fluid, the pressure to be defined as beautiful, under whatever definition you attach to it, remains stable.These photographs show some of my early work when I began exploring the historic and cultural weight carried in beauty standards today. The dress (modelled by Effie King) is made from rough cut replicas of 18th century undergarments I made from old bedsheets, featuring panniers, underskirt, bustle and corset. I was keen for the fabric to be white and raw edged to create a kind of “deteriorating canvas” effect, acting as backdrop for the continuous line embroidery of a naked female body on top. I wanted to show that though women can still feel constricted by elements of historic western patriarchal beauty standards today, those standards are a backdrop on which we can create our own ideal – and embrace what we already are.
I was really interested in the idea that the body type celebrated as the “feminine ideal” has fluctuated from the voluptuous Titian-era Venuses to Twiggy to the curvy Kardashian figure currently in vogue. I feel lucky to be witnessing a revolution against constrictive beauty standards, with models like Sophia Hadjipanteli embracing the unibrow, Vogue Paris featuring their first transgender cover model in 2017 and the Body Positivity movement. However, the revolution is far from won; though we have started dissecting these binary constructs and rehashing another, kinder definition of “beauty”, people across the spectrum are still falling through the cracks. In the uncertainty of today, people with fragile relationships with their bodies are more vulnerable than ever.
With the photos shown here, I wanted Effie to stand with an empty frame, barefoot, without makeup to emphasize that even in her natural state, she is wearing the history of the women from generations before her. The body embroidery is bare partly to fulfil the “blank canvas” effect I wanted, and partly because it was one of my first embroidery pieces and my skills were not very refined. Even though the art is just a hobby, I have since experimented and developed those skills to continue the project I started at school.
A big part of that has been making corsets for both men and women. A lot of my work since leaving school has involved merging corsetry and life drawing. Aside from being fun to make, I like the idea that we can reclaim and redefine the corsets’ symbolism, making them something that celebrates the body, rather than oppresses it.
As art has always seemed to function to “fill in the gaps” where language fails, it seems inevitable that the anxiety of today will give birth to the art of tomorrow – especially in times as stressful as these. If anyone is anxious in isolation, needing an outlet, or just plain bored, I would encourage them to try something creative during lockdown. Hopefully they’ll find the same joy in it that I do.
‘White Dress’ by Hannah Leigh – A Virtual Tour
Photo Credits: @ragdollpixi Model: Effie King
This blog article was contributed by Hannah. You can find more of Hannah’s work and what she’s up to, over at @ragdollpixi on Instagram.
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