When was the last time a piece of clothing made you feel something? If you've never shopped for a wedding dress or squeezed into ill-fitting pants, it's possible you've never thought of dressing yourself as an emotional act. But for fashion artist Lisu Vega, textiles are a medium for catharsis.
"I use the body as a canvas to express my emotions," the Laundromat Art Space resident says. "For me, fashion is information. And I use the body to make information in the city. It’s not only fashion; it’s art statement pieces in the street. Fashion must always relate to art."
Vega is a Miami-based artist from Venezuela whose fashion collections have been sold all over the world. But unlike some other high-art/high-fashion work, Vega's clothing isn't just an exercise in strangeness or shock-and-awe. Much of what makes her pieces unique is her process of printing. In college, Vega studied both fashion design and experimental graphics. Those two methods merged for her in 2015 to create what she insists is more of a fashion art rather than the typical world of design that concerns itself with trends and mass production.
"Every single collection I create... it’s not conventional fashion design," Vega explains. "I do my own textiles, and I use performance and music."
Her upcoming solo show at Laundromat Art Space, "El Cuerpo de la Obra," is a perfect snapshot of the artist's eclectic practice, incorporating installation, performance, wearable art (some of which will be for sale, with proceeds going to charity), music, and photography. Aside from the rich and often-chaotic imagery, Vega's clothing is also made sustainably, with a dedication to both conserving materials and using every scrap of fabric produced by the artist herself. Her practice is in direct opposition to the fashion industry at large, which is incredibly wasteful.
Asked what inspired her to create sustainable work, Vega replies, "To be honest with you, I have two kids, and I want my kids safe in a better world."
That isn't an unreasonable response, but it captures, to an extent, the driving force behind much of Vega's art. Her collections are often inspired not by colors or functionality or season, but by raw emotion. She recalls the period right after her second child was born, for example, when terrible nightmares would wake her in the middle of the night. The gripping fear she felt became the inspiration for one of her projects.
That method is extended to the three projects within her solo show, one of which addresses Vega's reactions to the state of her home. After moving to Miami, Vega at first vowed to never return to Venezuela. However, she still had family there and found herself back in her hometown years into the political turmoil that President Nicolás Maduro had wrought.
"My city was completely destroyed," Vega reflects. A cousin who remained in Venezuela was fatally shot during one of the ubiquitous robberies sparked by rampant poverty and austerity. Her father was diagnosed with cancer, and her family back home had no way to pay for his treatment.
"Last year, the government fired at the people in the street. They don’t have food, they don’t have anything, and every day more people die on the streets. I can’t be quiet about that because it affects my life. I’m Venezuelan, and I have a voice."
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The same way fashion can seem divorced from the thinking, feeling human bodies it uses as canvasses, our approach to political upheaval can seem dehumanizing. Solutions are wrapped up in issues of foreign policy and aid while the country as a whole is criticized for the decisions of the few. For Vega, the silence surrounding the human experience of her country is deafening. And while her art is born from a very personal need for addressing that suffering, it opens a field for exploration within structures that seem to thrive precisely by ignoring the suffering of others.
That exploration is an opportunity we have to take. For Vega, her motivations are quite clear.
"One day I won’t be here, but I want my kids to be proud of what Mommy left."
"El Cuerpo de la Obra" Opening. 6 p.m Saturday, January 12, at Laundromat Art Space, 5900 NE Second Ave., Miami; laundromatartspace.com. Admission is free. One-time performance begins at 7:30 p.m. The show will run through January 23.