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Is fashion art? Jesse Glazzard and Sanna Namin are here to find out



The photographer and RCA fashion grad team up for an exclusive shoot that blurs the two practices, while we sit down with Namin to talk football references, gender politics and interning for Ann-Sofie Back

Is fashion art? It’s an age old question that’s plagued the minds of creatives since time immemorial. In a 2008 conversation, Maison Martin Margiela (speaking as a design collective) told Interview magazine: “Fashion is a craft, a technical know-how and not, in our opinion, an art form,” and later added that, “the work of a fashion designer is so different from that of an artist.” Karl Lagerfeld’s insistence that fashion was not art is a well documented opinion, while Miuccia Prada has stated as recently as 2015 that the two practices are not the same. In contrast, designers like Issey Miyake, Hussein Chalayan and John Galliano have all at points insisted on the inverse, insisting that fashion is, at least in some ways, an art form.

Like many of these designers, Sanna Namin, a recent graduate from the Royal College of Art’s fashion course, struggled with this distinction, so decided to explore it in her practice. After creating wearable “transient sculptures” at university, Namin moved on to her latest work, Sculpting-Self, which she describes as “[Blurring] the boundaries between art and fashion, questioning if a sculpture, when being interacted with the body, transforms into fashion or remains a sculpture, or something in between.” Through cocoon-like wearable structures, Namin unpicks gender, references her past life as a football-playing teen, and even preaches for a better future, where the sculptures symbolise armour that can “protect our abilities to evolve or transcend.”

After teaming up with photographer Jesse Glazard to capture the sculptures in action, we caught up with Namin to talk about her inspirations behind the work, her time at RCA, and if sculptures really do turn into fashion when bodies interact.

Hi Sanna! What was the initial spark of inspiration that led you to create Sculpting-Self?

Sanna Nanim: Sculpting-Self is my first deliberate body of work in sculpture following transitioning from garment references into a wider lens on how to create the image of oneself.

A lot of the pieces are almost cocoon-like – were you thinking about the idea of rebirth or renewal when designing?

Sanna Nanim: I think more about evolution – how we can evolve with the information we have, and how we can rearrange our resources to mobilise further imaginings [of evolution]. Your picking up on a cocoon likeness of the pieces stems from my interests in shields as protection and armour – how we can protect ourselves whilst navigating intersectional identity politics and how can we protect our abilities to evolve or transcend.

Can you explain a little further how the work navigates these identity politics?

Sanna Nanim: I think that navigating identity politics is ongoing and forever work. We live in such constructed worlds that categorise and oppress and the work is about liberating and allowing myself and those who interact with the pieces to express themselves.

During the shoot, I provided minimal art direction. I shared some inspiration images with Lewis the performance artist beforehand, but left it up to them to interpret and interact with the pieces freely. The sculptures are open-ended and don’t suggest how they should be worn in relation to the body or without. By giving Lewis full control, they were able to evolve within the sculptures and express themselves freely. After the shoot, Lewis mentioned that they felt they hadn’t even had the chance to fully explore the pieces, which I found beautiful. Each person who interacts with the sculptures brings a unique outcome, highlighting the endless possibilities.

“There are direct [football] references, like jersey, lycra and satins with elastane… then there’s more intrinsic references, like instinct” – Sanna Namin

How did playing football in your youth inform the work we see in the shoot?

Sanna Nanim: There are direct references, like the materials I use. Jersey, lycra and satins with elastane, or the colour blue is the same as the football jersey of my team growing up. Then there’s more intrinsic references, like instinct. When you play football, instinct is everything. You never know what the opposition will do and intuition plays a huge role, if not the biggest driving force. I technically interrogate all the materials I work with relentlessly, until I build more and more understanding to really work with the full potential of the material and fulfil my desired outcomes. It can become so laborious but I just won’t give up even if I want to. It’s often hard for me to understand why I’m so stuck on a certain idea but I trust my feelings and eventually I understand why.

I was always so fed up with the fact that women’s football at the time was not taken seriously. I once got a comment from a family member that football is just a hobby for women and that I should focus on my studies, and that stuck with me and made me very frustrated and upset.

In my work, I always touch on these topics. Gender recognition and gender equality is important for me, and the starting point can be something that I don’t fully understand or agree with. For example, I used a lot of rigilene and metal boning in the sculptures that were originally used in waist-reducing corsets for women – ones that distorted their bodies back in the day – but instead I use the rigilene to stretch the fabric out and oppose its design intention.

At RCA, you created the body of work Figuring which is described as ‘transient sculptures that would not hold’ – can you explain what you mean by this?

Sanna Nanim: Transient sculptures is a performance work that occurred as a reaction to feeling some stagnancy and disappointment in garments I was making at the time during my studies at the RCA.

I was due to attend a fitting and wanted to cancel the booking but instead I was convinced to turn up with various pieces of foam and fabrics. We started to play and transform with these pieces, and it was so enjoyable and intriguing that we explored numerous possibilities and uncovered many potential ways of being. The pieces were held but not fixed so would only hold their shapes temporarily resulting in the title transient sculptures.

When I reflected back on the work, I realised that this is how me and my cousins used to play in the summers at my grandparents place in the north of Sweden. We would build boats out of scraps from my grandfather’s workshop and build sails out of my grandmother’s knitted scraps. We would sail the boat down the river and it would always sink, much as these transient sculptures would never hold – the beauty was always in the play.

Are there other fashion designers you draw inspiration from who blur the line between art and fashion?

Sanna Nanim: I’ve always been very inspired by Ann-Sofie Back, especially her atelier collections. The pieces she created for that line I view as artworks. I interned with her back in 2018 and her radical approach to fashion and art has left a lasting impression on me.

“The answer to the question ‘fashion or art?’ will be different to everyone as they experience it through their contexts or gazes” – Sanna Namin

So then do you consider yourself more of an artist or fashion designer? Or does it not matter to you?

Sanna Nanim: I see myself more as an artist who came through a fashion context. Fabric based works and interrogating materials will always play a big role and the roots of this are in my education and industry experience. The skills you develop through fashion are incredibly valuable with the material knowledge, pattern cutting, sewing and so much more, which has really aided my transition into sculpture. I hope to create costumes for performances in the future and make work in other fashion-adjacent contexts.

Have you reached any concrete conclusions yet? Does sculpture transform into fashion when bodies interact?

Sanna Nanim: It’s more of an open dialogue for me. I think bodily interactions activate the pieces in very interesting ways and reflect the energy or sensibilities of the participant. In discussing the work with others, I know that it challenges people to understand where and how they should place the work. The answer to the question ‘fashion or art?’ will be different to everyone as they experience it through their contexts or gazes, and, of course, how we feel about things can change over time.

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