born naked

2015 – 2017

Gender performativity has had significant influences in cultural studies and sociology, yet empirical cases of the theory remain scarce. While some analysis examines performativity in work, the focus is on organizations and how gender ‘gets done and undone’ within them with little attention paid to bodies outside organizations.

In these works the artist has tried to analyse the routine bodily practices and gender performances of men and women in fashion, investigating what happens when men and women perform the same work but under different gendered expectations. Fashion modelling presents a case that reproduces heteronormative definitions of femininity while potentially challenging traditional notions of masculinity and work. Here we evidence how challenging gender performativity, while to some extent still reiterative of normative heterosexuality, may subtly confound the conventions. Observing how models ‘do and undo’ gender extends the analysis of gender at work to non‑organizational bodies that tend to be under‑represented within the literature.

As part of this project the artist is searching to delineate and in the meantime challenge the operations of ‘aesthetic economy’, focusing on the way in which aesthetics in the field of fashion modelling are central to the economic calculations of this market. Economic calculations are intertwined with cultural concerns, bound to forms of cultural knowledge, capital and acquired taste, and to social, cultural and institutional relations. A culturally valued look (the model’s body) is produced through processes of cultural valorization within the fashion modelling and consequently the fashion photography network, which, in time, aim to translate into economic value in the form of high fees. Fashion photography provides an interesting case study which might shed light on how aesthetic values are generated in other fields of cultural production with a strong aesthetic component.

Despite some of the efforts taken, the media is still occupied by the glamourous figures of professional models, here the artist’s working with the idea of having the everyday setting of ordinary people, highlighting their social backgrounds as inseparable components of their identity, a setting for the articulation of fashion in the contemporary media.

Elham Rahmati