Invitation to Explore: Literature & Fashion Student's Final Virtual Exhibition

Dec. 14, 2022


For students enrolling in the fall 2022 English course "Literature & Fashion," it began with an image.

Co-taught and envisioned by professor Anne Cheng and graduate student Moeko Fujii through the Collaborative Teaching Initiative, the course invited students to explore the intimate relationship between literature, fashion, and various modes of self-fashioning and unfashioning. Students applied for a seat in the popular seminar through application by responding to the image of the "garment" created by Bejing artist, Li Xiaofeng. As the semester unfolded, they explored novels, films, and photography that highlight the relationship among material histories, social fabrics, and notions of the corporeal and the human. From Jane Austen to Nella Larsen, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo to Wendell B. Harris’s Chameleon Street, the course asks: how does fashion constitute — or unravel — our notions of the self and of the world as "surface" activity. Along their journey, they unsettled the easy yet stubborn distinction between surface and interiority. And now, the students offer a tour of the culmination of their exploration in a virtual exhibition showcasing their final projects.

As part of their immersion, students visited the archive of the Met's Costume Institute, where their assignment was to select an item from a collection of objects that they studied there and then to engage creatively and intellectually with the chosen object. The assignment has two components:

  1. The image: the students were invited to manipulate the object (by redesigning, recontextualizing, repurposing, etc.)
  2. The text: the students then wrote catalogue essays that accompanied their object-entries. The essays showcase the students’ reflections on their entries by engaging with select literary and theoretical texts from the syllabus.

From a staged, imaginary conversation about “self-respect” between Vanessa Beecroft, Joan Didion, and a pair of Comme Des Garçons shoes to a meditation on racialized gender, flesh/fabric, and cyborgism inspired by a bustier by Issey Miyake, each and every one of these entries are deeply thoughtful and innovative.

The team teachers, Cheng and Fujii share, "We cannot be any prouder of the class and are happy to extend the students’ invitation to the English Department faculty to visit their e-show."


Top: Li Xiaofeng; Past Presence No. 2 (2016); Ming and Qing period ceramic shards, stainless steel; Art Central 2016 (Red Gate Gallery)

Second: Lena Hoplamazian's final ENG 294 project, An Alteration in Conversation of Iris van Herpen’s 2012/2013 couture Dress.