fashion figure

flame decals!

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Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson

Film: Hidden Figures (2016)

Costumes by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus

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These are self portraits. And that’s important because I believe that images are a glimpse at the magic that happens when the mind, body, and spirit connect. The camera is only an extension of the eye, and this is how I see myself.

A few months ago I heard Kathleen Cleaver, a former Black Panther, speak at a local museum and as she spewed her feelings about “Formation”, calling it pornography, I recall feeling a disappointment so strong it nearly felt like grief. I felt similarly reading bell hooks’ criticisms of Beyoncé. I felt that ultimately they were expressing their disdain for me, women like me, and my/our own brand of feminism and autonomous expression. I don’t fit into any one box. Sometimes I am poised and polite. Sometimes I’m a bitch. Sometimes I am homely. Sometimes I’m scantily clad. Regardless, I am always wanting more for us. More respect, more love, more space and freedom. My attire does not negate that.

Kathleen Cleaver called Beyoncé’s lens, and ultimately my own, mindless. She called it disgusting. And the dank thickness of her tone has fixed itself in my memory. Wedged itself in my psyche. And I find myself, ever since, feeling apprehensive about being visible in my own skin.

These are self portraits. And that’s important because shame and internalized misogynoir are real. Respectability politics are real. And while I am a woman who can be agreeable to a fault, I’ve never had a talent for conforming.

This is not pornography. These are self portraits.

And that’s important.

That’s imperative.

Emerald Shaw
June 2016