If you could design an outfit that expresses your true self, setting aside fashion trends, gender-based expectations and worries about what’s considered “flattering,” what would you create? Would you go for sparkles and sequins, rich colors, fine tailoring or flowing fabrics? Would you design something that allows you to celebrate the distinctive, unique person you are?
Over the past year, thanks to Garrett Recker, a recent School of Film graduate and the winner of the 2021 Andries Deinum Prize for Visionaries and Provocateurs, nine individuals got the chance to do just that.
The $10,000 Deinum Prize — the largest prize in the College of the Arts — is given to one student each year, who uses the cash award to create a body of artwork that challenges the status quo and invites critical thinking about an important issue in our time. As the 2021 Deinum Prize winner, Recker created “The Born Project,” a multimedia exhibition that explores the often-hidden human experience as it relates to our gender expression.
Recker collaborated with a range of young people from across Oregon and invited them to create their dream outfit. Working with lead textile designer Maia Denzler, the nine participants, who represent a variety of genders, sexualities and backgrounds, “began with a neutral base — the jumpsuit — to then build it out into what they feel speaks to their authentic self,” Recker says. The exhibition features full-body photographs of the participants in their outfits, together with personal statements expressing their thoughts and feelings about the process.
“The fashion industry is underpinned by the idea that the wearer’s body isn’t perfect yet,” Recker says, and that to become complete, we have no choice but to buy the designs the retailers offer. “While gendered dress may seem completely benign, it presents a problem for people who express gender differently. Retail fashion drives conventions of self-expression.”
Recker also created a film that accompanies the exhibition, pulling from experimental and surrealist cinema to create a visual exploration of the ways in which society’s expectations around gendered clothing show up in a human life, in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The audience is invited to see our often-unconscious acceptance of gender norms from a new perspective.
“It brings me joy to know that even if I’m born to stand out, I can still fit with confidence into the clothes I want to wear,” says Nate Owens, one of the participants.
“It is a beautiful thing to have the chance to express myself without constraints,” echoes fellow participant Charlie Faulkner.
“The Born Project” opens this Friday, September 30 at 6:00 p.m. with an artist talk and film premiere in Lincoln Performance Hall. A reception follows the presentation. The exhibition will be on view through Jan. 20, 2023, in Lincoln Hall’s Broadway Gallery.