Tag Archives: London

All Dolled Up: the Aesthetics of Lolita Feminism

1 Sep

Image via daily-lolita.

Yesterday evening I was fortunate enough to attend Loli-POP! at the Victoria & Albert Museum – a celebration of Lolita fashion and frolics. The event was free and curated by Rupert Faulkner of the V&A’s Asian Department, to whom I extend my thanks for hosting such a wonderful evening. If you’re interested in reading more about the night, rabucon has an excellent post with lots of pretty pictures!

I was first introduced to Lolita style by the baby-goths of Brisbane’s King George Square, but it wasn’t until years later, on my first trip to Harajuku, that I was able to witness it on a mass scale. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of lace, frills and bows on display, as well as saddened by the fact that I would simply never be brave enough to pull it off. Because that’s the thing. Despite its sweetness, it takes incredible balls to becoming a fully-fledged Loli.

I’d never thought of Lolita as a feminist response until last night’s Q&A panel on Japanese Fashion Subcultures, when one of the panel spoke quite articulately about the movement and its relation to the subculture. I can’t remember if it was author of Tokyo Look Book Philomena Keet, or Harriet Hall, who wrote her thesis on ‘Nostalgia, Innocence and Subversion: Kawaii and the Lolita Fashion Subculture in Japan’, but they were both very clever during the whole panel discussion and made a lot more sense than I’m about to.

Image via jeriandjapan.

Basically, I see Lolita fashion as hyper-femme. It takes the concept of femininity to the extreme – almost to the obscene. Bear with me here. There is something quite subversive about Lolita. It takes these traditional symbols of femininity – bows, ruffles etc. – and exaggerates their existence. Rather than being feminine in a passive way, Lolita fashion is extremely visible and in-your-face. The whole package is all so obviously artificial, so unattainable, that I think it can be read as a political statement. A statement against a society that teaches girls to be princesses, women to be beautiful, to be submissive, to be feminine. Out society ultimately measures a woman’s worth by her appearance. These dresses and wigs and false eyelashes and knee-high socks are a rebellious act. They seem to ask, “Is this what you meant? Is this what you wanted?”

If you have ever seen a group of Loli girls, you will know that this kind of aesthetic is confrontational, and can be unsettling.

Image from feministlolita.

Lolita is also a threat to traditionally patriarchal values because it exists to the exclusion of men. These girls/women aren’t dressing this way to ‘get a husband’. These costumes are not created to please others, dressing Lolita is an almost entirely self-indulgent practice. This can be quite a novelty for those individuals who assume that “every single action in a woman’s life is entirely based around how she feels about the men in her life.” You know,

If she wants to be pretty, it’s because she wants men to look at her as an object. If she is a feminist or a lesbian, she just hates men. If she wants to be a stay-at-home mom, it’s because she feels she’s subservient to men. To society, absolutely nothing she ever does is based upon her own feelings, but to bow to or rebel against the men in her life.

Online, one Lolita shares a conversation with her friends’ father:

I was showing off ‘Sugary Carnival’, which is a print by Angelic Pretty with marshmallow-twist lines that end in carousel horses around the hem.
“So what,” he asked, “is the idea that men want to eat it off you?”
“Er, no,” I told him, “lolita isn’t intended as sexual. I guess people can find it that, but to be honest, finding it sexual I find more than a little creepy.”
“Well,” he told me, eyebrows raised, “what do you think men are thinking?”
“I think nobody cares what men are thinking.”

And there we have it. I suppose to outsiders like me, it can be difficult to understand how empowering pastels and frills can be. But I’m not about dictating what people should and shouldn’t wear – you know, “Let’s ban the burka!” or “these skirts need to be more feminist!

But this post is already way longer than I intended and I am by no means an expert, so I’ma throw it over to you guys. Any thoughts?

Art Attack: Boxhead

2 Apr

I discovered Boxhead in Amsterdam in Outland Store, a tiny gallery space not far from the Red Light District, and I was blown away. This artist, using such a simple concept, seemed to encapsulate every thing I was feeling at that point in my life. I passed it off as a herbal-tourist-reaction, but months have passed and the feeling remains.

In fact, Boxhead gives me a lot of feelings.

A piece of art has caused me to have an emotional reaction. Is that normal?

Begoña Toledo, otherwise known as Boxhead, cannot remember a time when she didn’t make art. At school in Zaragoza, when most of her friends were playing with dolls, she was drawing. This translated into an interest in fashion when she became older. “Not all the model crap,” she clarifies. “I wanted to make clothes. That’s how I learned to draw the human body, never took drawing lessons, I learned anatomy by copying the model bodies on the magazines to dress them after with my designs.” She studied Fine Arts, in Barcelona before moving to Utrecht to do her postgraduate Visual Arts course, and has now been living in Amsterdam for four years.

Boxhead works primarily with paint on canvas, but she doesn’t limit herself to this medium. “I’m seriously eclectic, I draw, paint, screenprint, make toys, spray, sew… the medium is never the main reason in my work. I use the one that suits better the idea I want to develop.”

Where’s your head at?

Something about her work pertains to categories, being literally ‘put in a box,’ while also defying these categories by denying her audience access to any tangible emotion the subject may be feeling as she walks trough mist, through rain or tears. We don’t know what she’s thinking as she forms part of a manufacturing line, looks down at the landscape around her. We don’t understand – and this feeling is internalised. Do we understand ourselves?

The boxes give these pieces both a private and public life. They are shy and responsive at the same time, protective yet open. We don’t know whether the box is imposed upon Boxhead, or if she is wearing it by choice. We don’t know whether it is a part of her or if she is using it to conceal her true identity. And Boxhead doesn’t privilege us with her subject’s thoughts. It’s a Schrödinger’s cat type situation, in which the subject is both devoid of feelings and overwhelmed, faceless and beautiful, or ugly.

I find it interesting that the subjects are always gendered female, with their typical pocketed dresses and rounded thighs. This speaks to me of a kind of self-awareness, while also conversely pertaining to childhood and uncertainty. According to the artist, Boxhead has “a rebel attitude in the sense of identity.”

Boxhead’s paintings question our notions of identity and self-hood. They speak of gender politics, urban existentialism and consumer culture. They speak, and while I don’t know what they’re saying, exactly, I know I want to listen.

Presumably due to the economy, or some equally romantic starving-artist reason, Boxhead has started selling her paintings through Facebook. I bought a tote. Totes aren’t usually my bag, but this was one of seven, so it’s kind of like I carry my stuff around in my own little horcrux. Which is nice.

I urge you to go check her out before she makes the move to London later this month.

This article was originally written for Autostraddle’s Art Attack month, which was ace. Unfortunately this author was lazy writing her final year dissertation and failed to submit it in time. Please do ‘head’ on over to Autostraddle and take a look at their fine, punctual submissions.