Samia Ziadi | The politics of fashion
This year, in its second edition, AKAA Art Fair stays true to itself; dedicated to so-called “contemporary African Art” — whose definition is still very much up for interpretation — the fair continues to support emerging galleries showcasing talent from the continent; notably, initiatives such as the Brussels-based Galerie Number 8.
Lacking a physical gallery space, Galerie Number 8 would not fit in with the format of bigger art fairs, but at AKAA, it brings together the work of three incredibly talented artists: Campbell Addy, David Uzochukwu and Samia Ziadi, the Marseilles-based artist/stylist/photographer whose politically charged dresses — showcased through clever, colorful and very Instagrammable photography — make for an important statement about the place of youth within today’s complex political landscape.
Samia Ziadi, Plan d'Aou II. 2016. Courtesy the artist and galerie number 8.
Ziadi’s practice intertwines fashion, photography and the political in unexpected ways. The vibrant dresses she creates — known, evocatively, by names such as “République”, “The Virgin and Child” or “Immigrant” and worn by women who take on almost “divine” qualities — are then incorporated within a mise-en-scène that highlights their political quality. In Yalla J.O., Ziadi’s model, wearing the “Immigrant” dress, steps up on the podium of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic stadium. “When immigrants arrive in a foreign country, they do not have a flag, and that’s why I wanted to associate this dress with the Olympic flag: it’s a universal symbol of social and ethnic diversity”, explains the artist herself.
In Ziadi’s work, “characters” come back again and again in different environments, from social housing estates, to the Greek island of Lesbos, to halal butcher shops — places that are indissolubly linked with the history of colonialism and migration. By choosing landscapes pregnant with meaning, and by placing all of her characters in very real environments linked with some of the most pressing political issues of Europe today, Ziadi reveals that the everyday is, on closer inspection, full of political significance. “All my pictures were taken in Marseilles, and everything’s real. I took the photo with the three women dressed in red, blue and white on the eve of the presidential election. Locals reacted negatively, and the police had to intervene.”
Because they are always deeply rooted in the present, Ziadi’s works have sometime caused backlash among locals; while shooting her series “République”, the police had to intervene after locals responded violently to Ziadi’s mise-en-scène. “Most of the time, people are touched by my work, but works such as the “immigrant” dress raised a lot of questions — people were scared of it.”
Samia Ziadi, République: Hallal. 2016. Courtesy the artist and galerie number 8.
Colorful and undoubtedly very Instagrammable — Ziadi was discovered by Galerie Number 8 through the social media platform, attesting to the increasing influence these networks have on the art market. These pictures infiltrate our Instagram feeds with the portraits of strong women bearing messages that go well beyond the narcissism of social media; “women are always at the heart of my work and my research. It’s incredible to see the reactions that a dress worn by a woman can provoke.”
“I understood the political, social or religious power that a dress can have very early on. I created the dress with the Virgin Mary and Child after the Paris attacks — for me, it’s a peace symbol. I decided to have a Senegalese Muslim woman wear it to show that, often, we need to go beyond religion”.
Samia Ziadi, Illegan. 2016. Courtesy the artist and galerie number 8.
More ambitious than ever, Ziadi is now working on a monumental new work. Titled “République”, her new project will see the stylist-artist create a deconstructed dress with a 10 to 15 meter-long sleeve, colored in red, white and blue and assembled by using second-hand t-shirts or sweatshirts. The dress will be worn by a woman sitting on top of an “HLM” (Habitation à Loyer Modéré, a form of social housing) .
“I’ve heard the word “republic” thrown around a lot lately, and I wanted to turn this idea into an image. The word “republic” concerns me; some people might have lost faith in it, but for me, it represents fraternity. That’s why I created this dress; it’s out of the ordinary, and it has the colors of France, but it might as well evoke the flag of the United States. It’s a symbol that can apply to any nation — it can travel everywhere”.