Category Archives: kansas city

kansas city fashion week (and why i write about fashion)

What have I been up to this month?

Good question. As with any response that could easily be said in a few words, I think I’ll start with a quote from the one and only bell hooks:

 “When we’re talking about race or class or gender, popular culture is where the pedagogy is, it’s where the learning is…it has power in everyday life.”

My writing dips into several different areas in culture; one of those areas is fashion.  Fashion is fascinating because it actually does dictate a part of everyone’s life, even if that part is merely throwing on a work uniform as part of a morning routine.  Essentially, fashion is a conflict between “high culture” (think Prada, Chanel) that considers itself art and the “lower” culture, aka the cheap designs that make it to the Misses section in Walmart. Historical movements are marked by fashion trends—the shapeless flapper dresses of the 1920s, indicating a rebellion from traditional femininity, for example. Fashion is class, race, gender, and cultural differences (or similarities) seamed together and torn apart in material form.

Plus, styling outfits can be pretty fun, you know, on a non-theoretical level. Go figure.

I’m not totally embracing or even endorsing the fashion industry; manufacturing is cruel (outsourcing, exploitation, factory collapses), as are the body expectations for women (you’re either tall, thin, and white, or the exotic Other). But connections between these material and economic relations and cultural representation—or, probably more appropriate, the disconnect between them—are all the more reason to check yourself if you roll your eyes at the word fashion.

So what have I been up to? I’ve been covering Kansas City Fashion Week, in my newest project as a contributor for the New York-based website, The Style Line. KCFW was held March 13-16 in KC’s own historic Union Station, and it featured designers from across the country.  Some collections erred on the side of boring, but most runway shows were legitimately a ball to watch. 

Union Station, Kansas City, Missouri

On Saturday’s shows, I sat next to a designer from New York. She asked my permission to editorialize out loud, and I happily let her. “Oh that is good. See that patterned skirt? That’s so tough, to match the pattern where the skirt is seamed, and the designer totally pulled it off… Is that a pin holding that dress together? Hello, have a fitting before the show… Ohmygod, yes, from now on every runway show needs to start with capoeira,” she said at the beginning of L.O.D.’s Brazilian-inspired showcase of yellows and greens. I didn’t bother to correct her use of capoeira; I was drawn in by her commentary, and even added my own knowledgable remarks. “Well… her hair looks good, so…”

My favorite collection was designed by Andrea Marie Long, partly because of my obsession with checkered patterns, and partly because the Cossack headbands made me imagine that I was watching Fiddler on the Roof circa 2014 (a very, very good thing). Plus, her capes were stunning. I can only imagine the skill it takes to design and craft them.

The best part about Kansas City Fashion Week, though, was the impressive community effort that it took to produce the event. The models, hair stylists, makeup artists, media, sponsors, and general public were all local. I saw people in the audience dressed as though they expected Anna Wintour to show up, and I saw others who seemed to think that Kohl’s is haute couture. Again: I saw fashion as represented by different cultures and classes, but all from the Kansas City community.

It’s a long time since I’ve experienced such a strong sense of creativity and community in one place, and I was thrilled. Well done, Kansas City Fashion Week.

For more of my KCFW coverage, visit The Style Line’s Tumblr.

how to spend a summer saturday in kansas city

I was going to type something overwrought, like “Summer’s glow is beginning to dwindle,” but, as it happens, the heat that defines a Missouri summer lasted for about two weeks and hasn’t returned since July.

Not that I’m complaining. Summer is great, but fall is my favorite.

If you feel differently and are trying desperately to hold onto these last August days, don’t fret! Just follow my advice for a perfect summer day in Kansas City.

Wake up early to go to the City Market near the river and just north of downtown. Local businesses and small-time farmers, gardeners, artisans, and bakers gather to sell their goodies to make up a colorful bazaar.

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Don’t miss Bloom Baking Co. on the north side of the Market; they are always handing out samples of their baked goods in front of their door, and I’ve never tasted better bread.

Skip the pushy grocers on the west side of the Market. Don’t be fooled by the $1 plastic crates of blueberries (seriously, learn from my mistakes)–instead, buy your fruits and veggies from the farmer’s pavilion in the center of the City Market.

Then, take your groceries down to Loose Park (in one of those gorgeous, green spaces of KC) to set up a picnic.

DSC02661 DSC02662 DSC02663tumblr_mpyl7cmSFJ1qzz6wxo2_1280Enlist a friend (preferably named Jillian) to bring a gorgeous picnic blanket, basket, and mason jars filled with water and sweet tea. Sandwiches are from Bloom Backing Co. (but I might emphasize, blueberries were a bad idea).

Who knows? Maybe you’ll see a quinceañera and creepily take photos of high school freshmen dressed in clothing more expensive than anything you own.

DSC02664Walks along the park, which is several blocks long, are a given.

DSC02669DSC02666Still have time left before afternoon turns to evening? Visit 39th Street for some thrifting at Donna’s Dress Shop and Boomerang, and then treat yourself to some coffee and pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins at Mud Pie. While you’re at it, forget to take photos! Because you’re too busy enjoying yourself, of course.

Voilà. An ideal summer Saturday in Kansas City.

graffiti and the grotesque, banksy and bakhtin

If listening to my own voice didn’t make me want to scratch my eyes out, I might invest in a camera, create a YouTube account, and make a video response to Rosianna’s insight on graffiti in Madrid. But as it happens, my YouTube fame reached its peak after St. Patrick’s Day in Westport, KC (…I’ll leave you to speculate), and I prefer to write what’s called a “response”–like a video response, but with more word, less video.

First, an introduction.

Rosianna Halse Rojas is the coolest. She’s the type of early twenties career woman who’s making her own path in the world by rejecting the traditional job route by creating original and insightful content online. (She also happens to be the PA for critically acclaimed writer John Green. It’s fine.)

In this video, Rosianna reflects upon the graffiti she saw whilst walking through Madrid on a sunny day, enriching the city with its big, bright colors. Although graffiti is often seen as transgressive, or “not an authentic use of the space,”Rosianna points out that graffiti is not the only way that we claim spaces. Consider billboards, for instance; most people have no real control over those spaces either. The difference? Advertising is set up by major corporations, convincing you to fork over your money (the exceptions are the occasional PSAs, but even those are often funded by these corporations). Graffiti, on the other hand, is created by the common people, and it can be used to claim spaces*, to challenge the hegemonic political or ideological systems,or as art, among other reasons.

Rosianna then poses the question, “Many have said that their aversion to graffiti is down to the fact that it’s decoration we have no control over. But we have no say about billboards and buildings, for the most part, so why do we focus on graffiti?” and then generates her own response, “There’s a theory in urban sociology. If a city has broken windows or graffiti, it fosters a sense that crime is authorized in the city. But there’s a better angle I think, and it’s partly Mailer’s and party mine… [G]raffiti is powerful because it celebrates the that the city is out of control, and it celebrates the sense that when I wasn’t here, someone else was.”

Her reference is to Norman Mailer, who wrote an article in Esquire in 1974 entitled “The Faith of Graffiti.”

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(Here’s the full text, if you’re interested.)

I want to build upon this notion that graffiti celebrates a city out of control. Graffiti, by its very nature, is carnivalesque–an overturning of the dominant social binaries (elevating disorder over order, for instance), and a celebration of the grotesque. Mikhail Bakhtin discusses the folk-humor of carnival in Rabelais and his World, and man do I love Bakhtin!** When I think of my pre-Bakhtin understanding of carnival, I imagine the festival in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when they crowned Quasimodo the king of the fools, or Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro. The carnival in theory is no different from these folk traditions–Bakhtin argues that carnival can create an alternative social space in which life is shaped according to a pattern of play and characterized by dialogism (that is, various voices are engaged in dynamic discourse). In one way, graffiti’s carnivalesque nature is revealed through its rejection of a fixed, authoritative monologue.

Carnival not only deconstructs social, political and moral norms, but imagines an alternative way of living, allowing voices that are normally silenced to perform in their own right. The same reversal is true for graffiti. Rosianna mentioned that there is the sense of the city being out of control, but perhaps this sense is only illusory, created by a multiplicity of voices at play and in conversation with one another through graffiti . Perhaps graffiti does indeed offer an alternative way of living, if we only stopped and looked and paid attention.

When we think of graffiti in terms of transformative art, chances are the mysterious street artist and political activist Banksy comes to mind. The British Banksy’s graffiti art is satirical and thought-provoking, such as two male cops, traditional figures standing for the repressive state, kissing each other.

“But Kasia”–you might protest– “not all graffiti is made by Banksy types. What about those punks who like drawing giant penises and vulgar language on the walls of establishments? Think of the children!”

You’re right, sort of–not all graffiti is intentionally created with a political purpose in mind. It instead seems to be drawn by kids with too much time on their hands and just-because antagonism in their minds. That’s where Bakhtin’s theory of the grotesque becomes important–the grotesque is an exaggerated representation of the body or the sensual, which disrupts expectations and brings elevated ideas down to earth in a material way. Graffiti in its most grotesque form does just this; cartoon cocks that seem apolitical actually remind us of the dialogue that we deem unfit for polite or standard conversation (sex, curse words, etc). In the same way, the artists who draw the vulgar images might often feel excluded from the “proper” or “official” world (indeed, they even feel criminalized), and they use graffiti to announce their presence.

At the end of her video, Rosianna comments on this phenomenon of criminalizing graffiti artists. She mentions London’s efforts to rid itself of the graffiti on the South Bank, and says, “In criticizing graffiti, are we trying to escape the reality of other people? Probably… It feels like a generation already inclined to feel ignored is being erased…”

When I googled, “Kansas City graffiti,”  I found an article on the KC Star‘s website reporting on the rush that people get from power washing graffiti. “When graffiti is the enemy, a power-washer wand feels like … power,” reads the article’s lead (painful, I know). The City has recruited its residents to participate in this erasure of graffiti–a clever move! It heightens the divide between the law-abiding Us and those felonious Them, and furthermore,  it gives the participants a taste of this authority. The article quoted two women, who said washing the graffiti gave them a sense of “empowerment” and was “therapeutic.” This saddened me more than anything: that they gained their sense of power or peace by aiding in the silencing of another’s voice. The effect, in this case, is not only escaping the reality of other people, but playing an active role in wiping them away.

For those interested, I actually did find some Kansas City graffiti on Flickr. Here ya go:

*Graffiti becomes increasingly problematic in the case of gangs claiming space, because this space is often grounds for violence. I don’t have an answer for this, but research and writing might get me closer, eventually. What are your thoughts?

**I once posted on my Tumblr, “Ever since I began my university education almost three years ago (!!!), Bakhtin has been way up there on the list of dead Russian theorists who fascinate me,” and though I’ve since graduated, he still tops the list.