Fighting inequality with fashion – The Daily Eastern News

Throughout the ages and across all cultures, clothing has had great meaning.

This sentiment rings true for Samira Dadson, a graduate student in the Studio Art Department who studies fashion at EIU.

All over the world, women are harassed because of the clothes they wear. In the United States, nearly nine in 10 women experience street harassment before the age of 17, according to research ILR and Hollaback found. Women must endure defamation, assault, and more, and ask what is more important: self-expression or safety?

Here at EIU, Dadson takes matters into her own hands, creating statement pieces that aim to end that question rather than answer it.

In Dadson’s home country of Ghana, the clothes a person wears make a big difference in how they are perceived. Depending on the color and pattern, clothing in Ghana can convey joy, sadness and much more.

Humility in Ghana

However, modesty is the norm in Ghana. Dadson has felt self-conscious about her appearance since she was a child, an experience shared by many Ghanaian women, she said.

When Dadson was in middle school, her class was taught about sexual assault and urged to dress modestly to avoid being targeted. Dadson disagreed with the message of humility and spoke out against her teacher.

“I was saying that one way or another, somehow the woman is always to blame,” Dadson said.

Her entire class exploded with something to say, insulting Dadson’s body and appearance.

But Dadson wasn’t wearing anything out of the ordinary. She was wearing a long skirt and a natural length top. She said it was her body shape that sparked anger.

“I had classmates who dressed crazier than me, but because they didn’t have curves at that age, they got away with it,” she said.

the Ghana Statistical Service It was reported in 2016 that 65% of women in Ghana would blame the victim if they wore revealing clothing in a rape scenario, which was 10% higher than the number for men.

Dadson said this shame was a common experience among most, if not all, Ghanaian women.

But ever since she was little, Dadson has loved clothes.

Modest clothing collection

Dadson came to EUI’s graduate program this year with one goal in mind: to make powerful art using clothing.

For her first clothing collection at EIU, Dadson created three pieces of clothing ranging from modest to immodest, directly inspired by the experiences of women in Ghana. The collection was titled “Kae,” which means “remember” in Asante Twi, a local Ghanaian language.

“I named it to remind people that at the heart of every non-conformist Ghanaian youth there is a Ghanaian identity,” Dadson said. “So, treating everyone with love and respect is a must.”

The more modest piece was covered from head to toe with a floor-length skirt and long sleeves. Besides, Dadson made a traditional African headdress to be worn with the dress.

Model Ariana Tunstall wore the modest piece in the three-piece outfit. She said that her role in the artwork was unclear and closed off, hiding from male gaze.

“Even though I was wearing clothes I would never have chosen for myself, I still felt beautiful,” she said.

For clothing that represented immodesty, Dadson wrote insults she and the other women around her heard on denim—denim was closely intertwined with rebellion—and sewed those patches into her crop top and ripped pants.

In addition, traditional Ghanaian patterns and a fabric called batik were used in clothing to represent themes such as wealth and power.

From marketing to the clothing industry

Fighting inequality with fashion – The Daily Eastern News
Samira Dadson sews a zipper on denim in the Doudna Fine Arts Center Fashion Lab, Doudna Fine Arts Center, Charleston, Ill., April 18, 2024. Dadson learned how to sew while she was in college studying marketing. (Ali Houseman)

But Dadson didn’t start making clothes until recently; It took a long time to get here.

She made her first clothes just ten years ago while she was still in college in Ghana studying marketing.

“They don’t encourage people to pursue the arts where I’m from,” she said.

The first dress I ever made was a peplum blouse.

“I was so excited after doing it,” she said. “Then I moved into making dresses and skirts.”

After graduating, Dadson worked in the advertising department of a bank in Ghana while sewing on the side. She knew marketing wasn’t the right path for her, but she felt pressured to stay.

But in 2020, Dadson took a huge leap: going back to school to study fashion.

While working full-time, Dadson began taking fashion classes from 6 to 9 p.m., and did his homework late at night after that.

“I was always tired,” she said. “I was always asleep. But somehow, I managed to get through it.”

In 2022, Samira is fully committed to fashion. She quit her job and enrolled at the Riohs College of Design in Ghana. There she said she learned how to make complex and practical clothes.

But she wanted to do more. She wanted to make art that went beyond the folds of her skirts and shirts.

Swing and miss?

While talking with a friend who works in the fashion industry from the United States, Dadson decided she needed to leave Ghana and come to the United States where she could get a fresh, new perspective on clothing as an art form.

Dadson considered her modesty successful, saying she was proud of the result. However, since she was in the United States, her message didn’t quite get through as she had hoped.

Because of differences in culture, some of the styles she made were not seen as risky.

“But that’s the point,” Dadson said. “It’s not that short, but the person wearing it faces that kind of discrimination.”

In contrast to Dadson’s experiences, Tunstall said she was never directly harassed for the way she dressed.

“I get booed; you get the comments,” Tonsstall said. “I never let that bother me.”

Tunstall said she could relate to Dadson’s topic but not directly.

Olivia Stout, a colleague in the studio art department, described her clothing style as eccentric, and said she was known for her unique, brightly colored clothing.

But being in the United States, Stout said she hasn’t encountered any problems other than some not-so-nice looks and taunts.

“But every woman is insulted,” she said.

Next step: waste clothes

This difference in culture inspired Dadson to enter a new world: American clothing waste.

According to Dadson, the global North, including the US and Europe, send millions of pounds of clothing to Ghana every week. She said that when clothes are donated to companies like Goodwill, a lot of the clothes are sent directly to landfills and end up polluting her home.

In response, Dadson created her latest artwork. The symbolic piece, titled “Dead White Man’s Clothes,” features a connected dress and blanket made from donated clothing.

From there, Dadson crystallized the garments to better maintain their shape, creating wearable artwork to raise awareness of fast fashion.

She slowly began spreading her messages to larger audiences. She said she believes these things should start small.

“She doesn’t make clothes just to make them,” Tonsstall said. “She truly believes and wants to spread the messages she is trying to convey through her clothes.”

Advocacy in the future

Currently, in her advocacy work, Dadson is looking forward to working with both the OR Foundation and the Safe Space Foundation, two prominent advocacy groups in Ghana.

Her piece The Colonization of Waste is on display at the Tarbell Arts Center until 5pm on May 3 as part of the graduate art exhibition being held there.

Above all, Dadson said she’s proud of herself for what she’s done, both as an artist and an advocate.

“I think I always knew I would end up somewhere doing art, but I didn’t know how I would end up there,” she said. “But the old me will be very happy.”

Alli Hausman can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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