Throughout my research into the history of the black Pin Up the aim has always been twofold: to educate myself and share what I learn and also to create a piece of art based on my findings. This was all inspired by Manchester's House of Ghetto, the black all female Vogue house who I saw perform at the Vogue Ball back in March.
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Speaking with Darren Pritchard, their award winning choreographer and House Mother made me want to work with them and the 'the black Pin Up' was his suggestion for the starting point. Writing these blog posts over the past few months has been an interesting and fascinating journey.
For the art work, I want to make something that the dancers can move and dance with but could also be displayed as a standalone piece, and my immediate idea comes from the title of this project, The Hidden Pin Up. When I began my research I realised that even though she existed, the black Pin Up was hard to find, she was difficult to pick out and see against the more popular mainstream white Pin Up and the historic context in which she was based mostly altered her or blanked her out.
I began thinking of ways that I could literally cover up and obscure the dancers so that they were hidden from view but stay in keeping with the Pin Up aesthetic. One of the subjects I learned about that really caught my attention was Jean Idelle, the popular and successful burlesque 1950's dancer whose trademark routine was dancing with huge white feather fans. This was a great starting point.
I like the idea of using a traditional burlesque accessory but giving it a new twist. At first I thought of making fans out of canvas that I could paint onto, but I'm not sure which direction to take this into yet. The question is what to decorate the fans with?
I want to send a message with the piece about the misconceptions projected onto the black Pin Ups (and black women now to some degree). The big factor that has stood out throughout the whole project is how black women have been represented and disregarded in mainstream culture. Time and again the black female image is painted as primitive, uneducated, hyper sexual and angry (see past posts for more elaboration on this).
My next idea was then to use the material of the fans themselves as the messenger. Rather than luxurious pure white feathers, the fans should be made of something that reflect the stereotype used in popular culture. Something rough and inexpensive with no finesse, and I thought that sackcloth/burlap would be perfect!
I like the texture and how it can be pulled apart and the frayed edges could be manipulated to imitate feathers. There are also a lot of historic and cultural connotations with this material that make it suitable to the work and the fact it is something that we connect with in many everyday situations yet take little notice of gives it a further layer of meaning.
I really like the idea of making something that looks crude and uncultured that can then be interacted with to create something beautiful and refined.
So not only would the fans be working to cover and hide the dancer/model (and also reveal her) they will also be challenging the ideas that have kept the black Pin Up hidden from mainstream culture.
As a utility material, sacking has a lot of potential to be worked with, and makes a perfect counterpoint to the glamour of the Pin Up. I love this photo shoot of Marilyn making an old sack look sexy!
I have been researching how to make my own burlesque feather fans so my next step is to gather materials and start experimenting. I want to try making feathers from sacking, and also stitching into the weave and embellishing it too as well as giving embroidery a try (you can see examples of my other embroidery work HERE)
I'm really excited to see how it goes!