I create wearable-performative characters that embody ideals and tell stories. I call my characters ‘Fine Art Superheroes’ because just like comic-book characters, my heroes wear costumes representing the values they embody. I create my costumes by hand, using fabric paint, cotton leotards, and various materials for the headpieces. I use motifs and patterns from different cultures to create unique character identities which connect visually to each character's theme. After creating the suits I collaborate with dancers to create live performances and photographs which explore each character's identity and personal narrative. My wearable artworks are a means by which I expand my understanding of culture, history, art, the human experience, science, spirituality, story telling, myth making, and the creative process.
All my characters are ephemeral beings occupying alternate realities. I discover them through my creative process and I use costumes to translate their essence into a visual scheme.
I create characters by choosing a pattern from a particular culture and exploring how I’ll adapt it to the body suit. I obtain a unitard made from a cotton/lycra-blend, dress it onto a mannequin, and then make decisions about color combinations, motif changes, and textures. I then create elaborate stencils out of an adhesive nylon substrate, which I apply to the body suit which is on a mannequin. My pigments are acrylic based fabric paints made by Jacquard. I use a variety of airbrush and traditional painting techniques to create the final painting on the body suit.
The Untitled Man is an avatar for human creativity
The Untitled Man wears a network of interwoven lines that represent evolving creative pathways, similar to synaptic pathways in the human brain. These lines show an unknown biological system named the Creatory System. This system digests human experiences and transforms them into creative actions. Beneath the network of white contours, you can see this character’s blood-red body. Without a layer of skin, you see the Untitled Man’s vulnerability as a creative being. On his head is a grey helmet with a white mask. The helmet protects and conceals the artist’s ideas as they germinate, while the stoic mask is a feat of misdirection, concealing the creative self’s true feelings in the face of the public eye.
Through photography, The Untitled Man has taught me about Mankind's problematic relationship with nature. While the human being is a product of the natural world, and just like any other animal it depends on it for survival, the human being is also the source of the natural world’s contamination and destruction. The Untitled Man is the human being ultimately realizing this paradox. It sees the rest of us alienated from nature. Our species lives on the earth and yet is at odds with it. The Untitled Man’s relationship with creativity is also strained and complex. A creative practice makes life more bearable, but at the same time man’s need to advance technologically produces more pollution than the Earth can manage, leading to the inevitable destruction of The Untitled Man’s environment.
The Untitled Man is the human being realizing this paradox, and trying to find his way back to nature, hoping that it will accept him and he can be a part of it once again.
Electrostar is an avatar for synchronicity and harmony
Electrostar embodies perfect clockwork and harmony in the universe. He is the avatar of synchronicity, spirituality, and pure energy.
Electrostar’s body contains dark blue shapes representing space, silver lines representing the paths of the electrons, and light blue glow representing the electron cloud, to me the lines represent how negative energy creates the illusion of separateness and masks the true vastness of space.
He is the energy that electrons possess, the energetic “skin” of every atom, and the energetic body of the cosmos itself. While he is located at every atom, his field is the entire universe. He enlarges to astronomical scales, where he presides over galaxies, laying their spiral arms in place. He dances up and down the timeline, while composing symphonies of the lives entire planets live. He is the universe's architect, but also its stenographer. He is the cosmic script writer, director, projectionist and lone ticket holder.
I create characters by choosing a pattern from a particular culture and exploring how I’ll adapt it to the body suit. I obtain a unitard made from a cotton/lycra-blend, dress it onto a mannequin, and then make decisions about color combinations, motif changes, and textures. I then create elaborate stencils out of an adhesive nylon substrate, which I apply to the body suit which is on a mannequin. My pigments are acrylic based fabric paints made by Jacquard. I use a variety of airbrush and traditional painting techniques to create the final painting on the body suit. I use paint brushes to create much of the visual texture, which makes the body suit look more dynamic and vibrant.
Doñagdeo is an avatar for transformation and growth.
Doñagdeo is a female diva, who bends human souls toward challenge, perseverance, and discovery. She transforms human beings and enables them to accomplish feats that change the course of history. She’s especially focused on the realms of scientific discovery and human consciousness. She guides philosophers, scientists, theologians, mystics and of course artists.
Ancient sites of spiritual value are a source of power for Doñagdeo. She likes to stand at portals between the mundane and the divine. She loves gothic cathedrals with vaulted arches. She can often be seen, or felt, at their entrances ushering people into the spiritual house. Doñagdeo can occupy not just a place but also a duration of time. The pace of time has no power over her and she transcends the moment itself.
Doñagdeo wears a yellow suit with a flowing green motif and visual notes in orange and magenta. I found and selected this pattern in the book Arabic Geometric Pattern & Design, published by Dover Publications Inc. This pattern attracted me because its curves and interwoven band differ greatly from the other more angular tessellations of the Arabic tradition. When the design envelopes the body, we get a strong sense of who donagdeo’s identity and personality is.
Doñagdeo dons a golden headdress with winged sides and patterns outside and inside. A golden 10 pointed lotus star ornamentation centered near her forehead. I was inspired by 17th century samurai helmets, and the way in which each helmet was made unique to its owner. The samurai conducted raides and were often swords for hire. They appear like demonic figures, not soldiers, because the element of shock, disguise, and fear lent a tactical advantage. Their helmets were often extravagant and strange creations that followed no cannon or style. They may have been some of the earliest avant-garde works in wearable arts, since they were individual and unique expressions, ignored cultural styles, and intended to promote discomfort at the very least.
Remon is an avatar for protest
2013: Remon represents 'Protest'. This superhero suit explores the incredible beauty and power of protesting for positive change. The black and white color scheme references the clarity of protesters on issues of justice. The suit features Arabic calligraphy as it's motif.
Calligraphy is one of the Middle East's most recognizable art forms. Here the 'harouf' (letters) are strewn about the body, so that the entire body has sound but no words are formed. The only word in the whole suit is the word 'no' shown as a لا (meaning ‘no’ or ‘not’) across the chest, and another across the spine of the back. Larger, thicker letters (Long Vowels and Consonants) divide up the body surface, while short vowels (or diacritics) decorate the empty spaces and bring a sense of motif to the costume. The helmet of this hero features the calligraphic “Hoo” meaning “Him (Divine form)” worn on both left and right sides of the head.
This avatar represents the spirit of 'Protest' which has awakened in the Middle East since 2010. In the past 3 years we've seen Middle Eastern governments toppled in response to oppressive practices. Through mass protest and the willingness to say no to injustice, ordinary people have accomplished seemingly impossible feats. Intrigued by the growing amplitude of peoples' political voice in Egypt and the U.S., I developed this superhero suit explore the incredible beauty and power in using political voice to bring about positive change.
But saying “no” is not enough to bring about compassion and understanding amongst people. In sufi spirituality, the "لا" represents denying oneself the indulgences of the ego in order to purify the spirit. The “hoo” of the helmet suggests deference to God, in lieu of condemnation or taking revenge against others.
Ezrule is an avatar for black womanhood, the bonds of love, and astral navigation.
The name Ezrule comes from Erzulie, which refers to a family of spirits revered by Vodou practitioners in Haiti. Generally speaking Erzulie is an Hatian Lwa associated with love, jealousy, and the other consequences of romantic affairs. I usually draw on my own culture for visual elements to construct my avatars, but in the case of Ezrule I was approached by my good friend and choreographer Jenny Oliver. She is a scholar of Hatian dance and folklore and she approached me with the idea of creating a suit inspired by Ezulie Dantor, and using Hatian Veve designs as a source of inspiration. She intended to use the suit in an upcoming performance.
I was immediately excited about this project and I told Oliver that this is exactly the type of thing I enjoy doing - creating powerful contemporary avatars in costume, motivated by the rich visual knowledge of a specific culture, and informed by the geography and context of real people’s stories.
One of the most important elements of our work was going to be application Hatian Veve patterns. On the suit these are the patterns that move up and down the Erzule’s front and the back. Veve in Vodou represent astral forces, but I think they might also represent imagined charts and possible maps back to their ancestors in Africa. The diagrams could represent a path through the stars themselves, rather than through the ocean. Africans navigated for years via the stars, but of course being stolen and taken to the Carribean transformed their sense of navigation into a desire for reconnection, via astral travel, with their divine ancestors.
Piridalil is an avatar for bravery and steadfastness.
As an ephemeral being, Piridalil is both a warrior and a mystic. His appearance invokes visual splendor and imposing structure. Piridalil is bold and confrontational, while embracing color and beauty. Piridalil offers guidance to people seeking greater spirituality. He strengthens their resolve and restores a sense of discernment to those overcoming emotional or psychological issues.
I wanted to make a character that openly celebrated all the wonderful things about manhood. Allowing us to throw out every misconception about males that is toxic and destructive. I love manhood, and openly contradicted our typical assumptions about men. Through this character I deal with issues of chivalry, personal truth, and the irreverent spirit.
Piridalil loves the mountains, and craves a bird's eye view of the world. He values solitude as much battle. Companions are also important to Piri, and he chooses his fellows carefully. The word Pir means feather in Farsi (spoken in Iran). In Sufi spiritual traditions, the Pir-e-Dalil is a spiritual counselor and guide to darvishes - those who hope to embark upon on the Sufi Spiritual path. I was a darvish for about 9 years and I sought to learn about Sufism through my study and practice. Piridalil is a result of my very limited learning in that timeframe.
To me Piridalil is the beauty of the peacock and combined with the bravery of the eagle. The headdress is made purely from EVA foam, and also utilizes the same arabesque pattern. The brim of the headdress is pointed like an eagles beak, and the headdress fans outward, like the peacock’s train.
For this suit I wanted to revisit working arabic geometric patterns. I used this pattern differently, opting to fill the shapes with visual texture, lines and color. I placed feather markings inside each shape and then painted over them with blue and green or red and yellow, to really heighten the intensity. Throughout the body suit I used color combinations that deliberately contrast, and sought to utilize the full spectrum from red to violet.