Probing the minds of the next generation of creatives we continue our series by talking to Alanna Hilton about her immersive and impactful DiversityNOW 2016 entry. Hilton’s work is a concept that holds deep roots within our psychology and our society, the expiration of beauty and therefore value of women. The de-commodification of women’s bodies is at the heart of the All Walks campaign and Hilton’s stark and baron imagery captures the cold insensitivity and brutalism that is brought upon women by media. The ghostly aesthetic is a reflection of our haunting reality: read below for amazing, intelligent and scathing opinions on the value of diversity and the cost of homogeneity.
What was the concept behind your Best Before project?
Women are often seen to have an ‘expiration date’. The above images are a dystopian depiction of this. ‘Use by’, ‘best before’ and ‘expired’, phrases taken from perishable goods packaging, are plastered over the women’s lips. This comparison turned the women into metaphors. Much like packaged goods, people are unable to see the contents within and instead get caught up in labels. The women were painted white, to standardise them, likening them to mannequins, a replaceable commodity devoid of any personal identity. The words on their lips are a societal projection. During the shoot these words were a physical restriction, preventing the women from speaking and rendering them voiceless. Despite these references the emotion conveyed in the expressions of the characters contradicts the above; it speaks of a disconnect between the individuals desire to be truly seen and societies inability to see beyond the physical.
What is important to you about the value of diversity?
It values people for their difference, not in spite of it. ’Just be yourself’ is a piece of advice we’ve all heard countless times from well meaning relatives and garishly coloured magazine columns. The easiest thing to say, yet one of the hardest to actually do. We all want to fit in, paradoxically we have a need to be recognised as an individual. When people write eulogies they speak fondly of strange habits and quirks, it was difference that made this person irreplaceable. I believe everyone is ‘other’ on some level. We have our own minds, how many of our thoughts genuinely belong to us is debatable as many will have been placed there through a means of socialisation, but we all have the capacity to think independently. No one should apologies for being themselves, there is no greater liberty. Not only will they own their lives, but they will give other people permission to do the same.
What needs to change within the fashion industry to forge a better future?
Existing views need to be challenged. Even before born you are labelled. Labels you did not ask for nor want. We all start life as an X. After a few weeks you become an XX or an XY. Your first label. We forget we are all X, it is the one thing that every person who has ever lived has in common. Yet we find ourselves getting caught up over the last letter. X is the only label we should ascribe to because it sees you as a person before it sees you as anything else. It sees you for your potential, your character, your hope.
People spend their entire lives trying to escape the limitations of labels. They put in place a hierarchy that sees some as more valuable than others. Often these labels are based on superficial factors (age, skin colour, sexuality, physical ability, gender). We are so often blind to the beauty of diversity. We could ignore labels if it were not for the fact they steal from those they marginalise. They can steal their sense of worth, their opportunities, their right to be seen as equal, their optimism but above all their belief in the good of humanity. When the marginalised are disregarded we circumcise society from ever reaching its full potential. Even those fortunate enough not to carry the burden of labels pay the price. We all do, and we pay it everyday. We pay it in lost potential. Potential relationships, potential innovations, potential revelations! The very people we disregard are often the ones whose adversity is likely to have given them the sensitivity, strength and perspective that we need. On a wider level we need to measure peoples worth independent of labels, stereotypes and hierarchies, to allow them to be truly seen. Within fashion I feel so often we create a culture of conformity. In my opinion the opposite is needed. We need an alternative discourse, one that recognises and celebrates otherness. One that gives people a right to be themselves. One that understands and accepts difference as a fundamental aspect of the human condition.
Your imagery plays on the idea of seen but not heard, what should we be saying?
My imagery reflects the ugly underbelly of consumer culture, ageism and gender inequality onto the faces of my characters. It is vocalising what is so often left unsaid. Alternatively I feel we should be saying your difference is your value. Not your trapping.
How does fashion make us feel like we all have a shelf life? Or are you trying to say we are all perishable goods?
Both within fashion and more generally we can be made to feel like we have a shelf life. I don’t believe this will change unless we challenge our current value system. A system which we forget is derived from capitalism, not from people themselves. ‘Best before’ is a conversation with wider culture about the importance of seeing beyond labels.
Interview: Elli Weir
Imagery: Alanna Hilton