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December 16, 2017
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Photograph courtesy of Erasmo Wong Seoane.
Lucia Cuba Peru Design

From Lucia Cuba's ARTICULO 6 collection.
Photograph courtesy of Erasmo Wong Seoane.

Lucia Cuba is not your typical fashion designer. With a background in the social sciences and fashion design, Cuba has combined creative force with social activism and is determined to create collections that go beyond aesthetic discourse. Rather than simply adapting and advancing the latest trends, Cuba is instead using her designs to generate dialogue about important socio-political issues.

Originally from Peru, Cuba moved to New York City to participate in the Parsons MFA in Fashion, Design and Society program. Her most recent project, ARTICULO 6, was shown during New York Fashion Week this September as part of the Parsons program and received attention for addressing a pertinent and controversial subject in Peru: the hundreds of thousands of forced sterilisations that took place under the birth control policies implemented by President Alberto Fujimori's government. Across the globe, it often goes unmentioned that 300,000 women and 16,000 men, many of whom were from impoverished and rural backgrounds. Official investigations report that at least 2,747 people underwent forced sterilisations.

Cuba's latest collection has even caught the eye of various celebrities; Lady Gaga was recently interviewed wearing a long-sleeve dress with pleated skirt, covered in printed text, from the ARTICULO 6 collection. The thought-provoking collection, which premiered at the Parsons: The First Eighteen MFA runway show, includes 34 garments, testimonies from victims, broken extracts of political speeches and policy documents as well as a set of 12 actions that will continue to be unveiled through installations, performances, exhibitions, film, photo shoots, workshops and lectures. These accompanying actions are intended to impact upon policy and social change. 

Through these initiatives, Cuba hopes to draw attention and support for the men and women who have taken their cases to courtThe Genteel chats with Cuba about what influences her work and how the reactions to ARTICULO 6 will impact the project's future direction.

In reaction to the project, I have even been censored by local institutions and press because of the political statement the collection makes, which also..allows us to realise...the fear that is still present when discussing human rights abuses openly in Peruvian society.

Amanda Coen: Your collection demonstrates both design creativity and social activism, highlighting a reach and impact that extends far beyond the fashion world. What was the inspiration and intent behind ARTICULO 6?

Lucia Cuba: "ARTICULO 6: Narratives of Gender, Strength and Politics" is an activist design project that aims to raise awareness about the case of forced sterilisations, which were implemented from 1996 to 2000 during the government of Alberto Fujimori in Peru.

The name of the project refers to the Sixth Article of the Second Chapter in the General Health Law of Peru [which establishes that all persons shall have the right to freely choose the contraceptive method they prefer and to receive, prior to the prescription or administration of any contraceptive method, appropriate information on the methods available. By law, the application of any permanent contraceptive method requires the prior written consent of the patient].

The collection is inspired in the Andean "polleras" or skirts, and is the result of a process of deconstruction and reinterpretation - the blouses and suits that complement this piece reference the uniformisation and militarisation of a public policy, aiming to evoke the strength and capacity of victims to defend themselves and overcome the irreversible while the images and symbols printed in the fabrics comment on the universe of institutions, activists, press and characters related to the case.

AC: What do you hope to accomplish with the project?

LC: I think that the project is already managing to create awareness of the fact that this case is still unsolved, that it [began] happening in Peru only 12 years ago, and to open a new space for the debate and analysis of gender and reproductive rights, through the design and use of garments.

This can be seen in the response and reviews of different local and international media, in comments and public opinion. I am hoping to gather and exhibit the impacts of this activity by the end of the 12 actions framed under the project.

Overall, the idea is to have an impact directly in the case itself, influencing media attention and public opinion, creating alliances with civically engaged groups such as associations, collectives, NGOs, artists, activists and media committed to inform and speak out loud about this issue and to create new spaces for the debate of gender and human rights.

Lucia Cuba Peru Design
From Lucia Cuba's ARTICULO 6 collection.
Photograph courtesy of Erasmo Wong Seoane.

AC: What feedback did you get from the show and will this in any way impact the direction you take with your 12 actions that go with ARTICULO 6?

LC: Since the project was launched in May 2012, the response has been positive, in the sense that its reading is not exclusively contextualised in "traditional fashion language." Furthermore, it has been recognised as a new way of doing and understanding fashion design and garments with agency.

In reaction to the project, I have even been censored by local institutions and press because of the political statement the collection makes, which also - and unfortunately - allows us to realise the strong power that some political forces still have in my country, and the fear that is still present when discussing human rights abuses openly in Peruvian society.

All of these things definitely strengthen the project in the sense that it is actually creating a space for debate, intervening in public and political agendas in different ways. The project has gained even greater visibility after being shown during New York Fashion Week when an internationally renowned singer [Lady Gaga] used one of the ARTICULO 6 pieces during an interview. This has put, not only the project, but also the case under the public eye, and received the attention of many Peruvians, some whom have expressed [the fact that] they were not even aware this happened in their country. This will set a tone for the six remaining actions that will come. They will be geared strongly towards having a local impact.

...the blouses and suits...reference the uniformisation and militarisation of a public policy, aiming to evoke the strength and capacity of victims to defend themselves and overcome the irreversible...

AC: What is the current status of the court case regarding the forced sterilisations that happened during Fujimori's rule?

LC: In March 2012, the cases were reopened for the third time, especially after having been "remembered" and highly discussed in the past presidential campaign of 2011, where Fujimori's daughter, Keiko, was one of the strongest presidential candidates.

It is now - once again - under the District Attorney's jurisdiction. However, even though there was an explicit electoral promise made from our now President Ollanta Humala to seek justice for the victims of this case, there aren't many efforts to create public awareness that the case has been re-openeded, perhaps for the last time considering that Fujimori's party is still very powerful in different governmental institutions throughout the country.

AC: As an activist designer, what do you ultimately hope to accomplish through your unique approach to fashion?

LC: To allow people to consider the agency of clothes and to connect in a stronger way with one of the most known elements in every society: garments. Also, to allow this familiarity with garments to become an opportunity to inform, be analytic, and raise awareness about how our society develops, and what can we all, as citizens, do about it.

You can take action once you know about something, and the mediums for doing it are now much more diverse and open. Ultimately, I would like to have a direct impact in policy making.


Read The Genteel's interview with Lucia Cuba about her work, the garment districts in New York City and Lima, as well as the changing landscape of Peruvian and Latin American fashion.

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