The concept for Siepert’s latest work originates from the artist’s time spent in the Middle East, performing research in places such as Lebanon, Egypt, Bahrain and Dubai. It was here that he first encountered the censorship of advertisements in women’s fashion magazines. These are not cases of straightforward censorship, where the magazines themselves are prevented from being published because of their content. The magazines appear for public purchase via translational processes between cultural conventions of dress – painstakingly applied to individual images.
With magazines that are produced in these Middle Eastern countries, or specifically for them, these adjustments are created pre-press. However, in the case of imported Western magazines, which are available uncensored, it is usually the shop owner who takes responsibility for the images. Often whole pages will be removed from magazines, because too much of a woman’s skin is shown. But some shopkeepers take it upon themselves to cover these exposed areas by hand, using felt-tip pens or markers. These cases of self-censorship, as the images themselves are not prohibited, can be seen as acts of translating cultural conventions. By covering areas that are shown unclothed, fashion is adjusted and transformed into the image of something that does not exist in reality.
Chosen from a collection put together over several years, several of these aesthetically and culturally sensitive alterations formed the starting point for the ‘Censored Dresses’ project. Working with the concept of fashion producing fashion, Siepert took the hand-censored fashion advertisements to professional dressmakers in Cairo’s Islamic quarter and asked them to recreate the clothing as depicted. Adding another dimension to the translational process, these instructions left the practical parameters of the design open to the women’s interpretation. The finished dresses are a product of a complex relationship between different cultural conventions, which are simultaneously mediated through individual interpretations.
left: censored advert from a magazine bought in Bahrain – right: reinterpretation by David Siepert
The work questions the difference between the tensions associated with censorship and the intuitive act of translation. The eight dresses reflect the choices of both the shopkeepers from Bahrain and the dressmakers from Cairo, and their relational interpretations of cultural conventions of dress. By taking the gesture of censorship literally, as a labor of adaptation, instead of symbolically as a violent act of oppression, the artwork opens up a space for negotiation between cultural conventions. The dresses become the physical manifestations of a reality which exists only in the translation between public and private, between East and West.
* * * * * * * * *David Siepert interviewed by German high fashion magazine I-Love-You: (including an editorial shoot, done in collaboration with German photographer Roman Goebel) click here: I-Love-You_No.8_David-Siepert_interview.pdf (5MB) (please be patient while the PDF is loading)
* * * * * * * * *Photos Hair and Make Up: Sandra Marcheggiani Models: OPTION Model Agency (Sara G. und Patricia R.) Censored Dresses is supported by