COMMUNE EAST TURNS UP THE HEAT ON THE ISSUE OF DIVERSITY IN FASHION words Luca Mitchell - opening image ARTSCHOOL AW19 by Jonathan Davies - other images courtesy of CommuneEAST
In the 19th century, the French Realists changed art forever, by producing paintings that represented the realities of everyday life - paintings which refused to conform to the Royal Academy’s preferred romantic depictions of a fantasy past. Their depiction of peasants, the working class, and raw rural scenes flung open the doors of the art world to a wider part of the population that had never before been made visible on such an artistic scale.
The new frontier of our generation is clear; to give a voice to everyone in society regardless of gender, race, and sexuality. Regardless of difference, period. This hunger for equality and desire to abolish discrimination is exactly what drove CommuneEAST, London based module agency for strategic IRL and URL partnerships, to organise the formation of a creative panel during Queer History Month. And they really did get the information across.
Host Jamie Windust was joined by ART SCHOOL designer and co-founder Eden Loweth, artists Ashton Attzs and Shadi Al-Atallah, and actress Jesse Jones at the Curtain in East London for an evening of deep and meaningful talks that aim to inform and shape creative minds while creating a safe and open space for the discussion. F Word joined the discussion which turned out to be a rather personal affair where the core of the discussion was inclusivity, with each of the panel sharing their own experience of the creative industries. In that sense, the conversation was emotive. The shared passion of these individuals was clear, they wanted to change the industry they are part of for the better; to bring about proper representation of ‘LGBTQI+POC’.
For CommuneEAST's founder Leanne Elliott Young; “the creative industries are within an exciting phase, but there is a dichotomy; the flux of collaboration and the rise of the multifaceted bio, means we are all thrust into a symbiotic relationship of community” adding that, “things are changing but the dust hasn’t settled yet, there are so many more realities for us to presuppose.”
For Leanne and the creatives involved in the powerful initiative, this is a time to increase the awareness and bring the discussion to a point of candid exchange of information and history, The series of events headed by CommuneEAST aims to provide a safe space in which one central issue is raised and tackled; is the creative industry doing enough?
Calls for inclusivity and diversity have clearly had some impact on diversifying the world of fashion, art, and music. In recent years, for example, we have witnessed a shift toward gender fluid collections. The drive to create fashion outside the usual norms has propelled the birth and growth of many designers and brands whose core ethos is to "create for all - provide for all" while appreciating and celebrating their uniqueness when looking at the broader picture. Fashion, in particular, has been pressing on to bring down the walls of marginalization. However, there is still a long and hard road to walk on until full inclusion has been created.
The proof that the goal is yet to be achieved is that the subject of diversity - whether racial, religious, gender or any other form of discrimination - in fashion is still not clear for many. This change in fashion has been called out by some individuals as ‘tokenism’, with minorities still being discriminated in the upper echelons of the brands presenting the so-called "gender-inclusive" collections.
On tackling the issue of tokenism, host Jamie Windust is razor sharp in their approach to the proper representation of minority groups in fashion. James states; “It's about handing over the reins to LGBTQ+ people throughout the whole process, and not just at the end as an output. We are often seen on mood boards and asked to model and be the face of creative projects, which is absolutely great for representation. However, we need to also be instilled within the whole process so that our voice threads through the whole project because this then will allow the project to be as authentic and truthful as possible.”
Jamie was drawing on the concept of institutional change, a concept at the opposite end of the spectrum to tokenism. This is exactly what CommuneEAST and their creatives are fighting for, questioning how we can arm ourselves with active tools to combat and reach beyond the structures of society.
ART SCHOOL's Eden Loweth understands the importance of institutional change, as he describes his own brand’s position in the fashion industry to be one where they can achieve real change. Eden’s passion is dynamite, and it translates into what ART SCHOOL does. The brand, which debuted at fashion week for AW17 doesn’t just throw the odd diversifying model down the runway. Or as Eden describes it, ‘shoehorn(ing) representation into their shows for the sake of it’. They have diversity at their core and throughout the design process from start to finish, liaising with queer pioneers by the likes of Munroe Bergdorf in their admirable attempt to always be sensitive to the communities they work with.
ARTSCHOOL Spring-Summer 2019
Eden candidly spoke about it and stated; “I would say we have worked hard to carve out a place inside the industry as this is how you can make real change. The establishment has taken time to understand us, and this gradual process of growth with editors, buyers, and the wider press has allowed for the right messages to be read and understood.”
The experiences of Jesse, Shadi, and Ashton shed light on the lived experiences of not only someone that is queer but also POC. You only have to look to Ashton’s Instagram to understand her stance. ‘Queering the Quotidian’ says her bio, a powerful nod to the understanding that queerness must become something that is accepted and embraced every day. What resonated even more so, was the anecdote she shared about some sound words her school teacher gave her. It was not her job to make art which represented different colored skin be seen, it was the institutions that curate galleries responsibility.
ARTSCHOOL Spring-Summer 2019
We are familiar with statements such as: “there are too many letters being added to LGBT+, it’s like alphabety spaghetti” and “people are too PC about race these days”. But regardless of your stance on the creative industry and statements such as this, there is a simple admirable truth about what CommuneEAST and these creatives are trying to achieve. They are part of the younger generation that is trying to find a way to consider EVERYONE; they want true diversity. One would hope the fashion arts and music industries are on the same page.
For more information on the work CommuneEAST is doing in the creative industry visit Communeeast.tv