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Art Through Time: A Global View

The Body Compare: Is Fashion Art?

Portrait of Woman Wearing Corset

Portrait of Woman Wearing Corset
Artist / Origin: Unknown artist, United States
Region: North America
Date: ca. 1899
Period: 1800 CE – 1900 CE
Material: Photographic print
Medium: Prints, Drawings, and Photography
Location: Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Man’s Corset

Man’s Corset
Artist / Origin: Dinka artist, Sudan
Region: Africa
Date: Second half of the 20th century
Period: 1900 CE – 2010 CE
Material: Beads, fiber, leather
Medium: Glass, Jewelry, and Metalwork
Dimensions: H: 30 in. (76.2 cm.)
Location: The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Credit: Courtesy of the Newark Museum

Is fashion art?

Clothing can be a powerful means of communication. It can reveal something about an individual’s personality, or at least about the way he or she wants to be perceived. It can also provide us with information about everything from gender to class status, religious views to politics. Whether worn by women in Europe and the U.S. or Sudanese men in Africa, corsets, for instance, shape not just the body and the way we look at it, but also the identities of their wearers.

Questions to Consider

  • Both the garment worn by the women in the photograph above and the work on the mannequin are referred to as corsets. In what respects do they perform similar functions? In what ways are their functions different?
  • In America and Europe, corsets were worn by women. Among the Dinka, this item of clothing is worn by men. Think about clothing in your own culture today. To what extent do you think clothing defines the gender of a body?
  • How would you describe the relationship between fashion and the body? Where, if at all, do you see art coming into this equation?

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Art Through Time: A Global View


Produced by THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG. 2009.
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  • ISBN: 1-57680-888-2