A question of identity

12 February 2016

I have been thinking about the topic of “identity”, which has been chosen by The Print and Stitch Group as the theme for the exhibition in 2017.

My interest in the subject is wide and varied, so I started by listing possible topics to develop.


Identity and body image:

  • Obesity/anorexia
  • Make-up
  • Tatoos
  • Disability
  • Age (particularly women)
  • Clothing associated with social class (e.g. country clothing worn by Royal family)
  • Clothing associated with race\ethnicity\culture\religion\political views (e.g. KKK)
  • Clothing as a means of making a statement about gender or sexual orientation
  • Clothing as a statement of sexual availability
  • Clothing as a statement of extrovertism
  • Clothing as a means of being ‘conventional’ and not drawing attention to oneself
National and regional identity:
  • Flags
  • National landmarks (e.g. Big Ben, Statue of Liberty, Eifel tower)
  • Associating with certain sports clubs or teams (e.g. football/rugby)
  • European identity (not considered much in the UK)
  • The Queen (head of state)
Genetic/racial/ethnic identity
  • Outward appearance (skin colour, eye colour, hair colour)
  • Surname (the artist Norma Starsanzowna is of Scottish/Polish decent. Had she assumed a different surname, this would have not been obvious to poeple unaware of her family history)
  • Identity from shape/proportions of the skeleton
  • Identity coded within genes
  • Fingerprints, handprints and footprints
  • Inherited disease
  • Twins/double identity (especially identical)
  • The family
Brand culture (the association of identity through one’s possessions)
  • Cars and motorbikes
  • Designer brands
Stereotypes and social labelling (assumed identity)
  • Prostitues
  • Unemployed
  • Geisha
  • Illness or disability 
Feminism and identity
  • Specifically the objectification of women
Assuming a new identity because of motherhood
  • Change of body shape with reduction in mobility
  • Hormonal and cognitive changes
  • Behavioural changes/nesting instinct
  • Feeling of becoming a clone – loss or dilution of perceived identity before pregnancy
I started to put together a sourcebook of all the magazine and newspaper clippings, photographs and sketches. It was difficult to know where to focus. My initial pages just seemed like a series of stereotypes – something I did not want to propagate through my art. 
I asked myself what areas were most important to me, and would be good as an initial focus for my work. I homed in on a couple of ideas:
The Union flag
The Union flag, as a symbol of the identity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, means many things to many people. It has been used by the punk movement, far right political organisations, and in fashion industry as part of the ‘cool Britania’ initiative. The recent Scottish referendum on independence (even though in favour of the Union), and the forthcoming referendum on whether Brtain should remain within the EU, have raised doubts over how long the union can remain in it’s current form. The debate is ongoing, and it is not inconceivable that the union flag might shortly be consigned to history.
I therefore thought it would be interesting to depict some sort of degradation, disintegration or corruption of the union flag as a metaphor for the break-up – either directly by statute, or by attrition. I would like to provoke consideration of what this flag actually  represents and whether it is important (the answer will, of course be different for different people). This is to be the starting point for one of my textile themes which I will continue to develop in sketchbooks and through sampling.
Bones, DNA, genotype and phenotype
I have been thinking about race and ethnicity as characteristics which are inherent on the inside of the body as well as (sometimes) being visible on the outside. I am interested in the concept that there are some clues to identity which stay hidden inside the body until medical investigation or death. 
We might have A certain eye or skin colour, or a certain shape face which associates us with a particular race or ethnicity, and an assum. This is our phenotype – the expression of our genes as a result of our genetic code (genotype) interacting with our environment and life experiences. However, even if out outside appearance do not suggest a particular ethnicity, there are likely to be characteristics within our bodies which reveal clues.
Diseases such as Dupuytren’s contracture (which is hereditary), has high in prevalence in Northern European countries where Vikings settled, and has been nicknamed as “The Viking disease”. (1) The disease, if it develops, does so in later life. This means that affected individuals can carry the disease without showing any outward signs. 
Another example is the human skeleton. Mineral content, shape and proportions of bones may provide information about ethnicity or culture, ancestry or social group. This fits in with my sketchbook work on taxidermi and bones as well as the identity theme. 

The next step
Whilst not completely disregarding the other issues, I plan to investigate and develop the suitability of these two initial concepts for as textile themes. I will write any sketchbook work and sampling in my sketchbook blog:  
  1. Anon. “The curse of the MacCrimmons”: A history of Dupuytren’s contracture. The British Dupuytren’s society. Available from: http://dupuytrens-society.org.uk/stories/history.html. [Accessed 12 February 2016]

One thought on “A question of identity

  1. Pingback: Union flag – samples | Sketches and studio work in support of textile degree studies after 20 April 15

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