It doesn't matter if you're a fashion failure or a fashionista, you can't deny that clothing is a big part of our cultural identity. Fashion trends reveal the patterns of our collective culture, and for individuals, clothes play an important part in making statements about personality. The Cuban-born artist team Guerra de la Paz is composed of two members, Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz, and they use the meaning-charged material of recycled clothes to create striking sculptures and installments that are packed with social and political commentary.
Military fatigues create an immediate reaction when people see them. For some, it is a welling of national pride in our soldiers protecting us abroad, but for others, fatigues are a visual reminder of the global violence that has seemed to only get worse in recent years. The image above, called Babyboom, speaks to the loss of innocence that violence causes around the world, as well as the dangerous chance of desensitizing children as they grow up in a military culture.
Guerra de la Paz also juxtaposes religion and the military in a number of their pieces. It is not a secret that many wars and a great deal of violence around the globe is due to misguided religious belief or fanaticism. The tenets of Christianity preach peace and forgiveness, yet religion, government, and the military often seem permanently connected. By recreating some of the most recognizable images from Christianity using only military fatigues, a strong statement about religious hypocrisy and political boundaries can be seen.
Besides their work on military and religious issues, Guerra de la Paz also focuses on conservation, mass consumption, and the frightening culture of disposability we have developed. As mentioned earlier, their work is mainly made of recycled clothes, and what better medium to demonstrate how wasteful we are as a society than massive amounts of discarded consumer products. Also, clothes are naturally layered with meaning from their previous owners. Articles of clothing that once helped to define an individual or accent their personality are then transformed into a work of art which tells another story. Individual experiences and memories combine in a larger message about community, responsibility, and hope for the future.
Many of the issues that the artists address in their work have connections to both the present and the past. By using clothing, which tells the history of a person, they bridge the gap between modern culture and some of the historical symbols and images that are widely recognized in our culture, but are not always analyzed. Powerful icons like rainbows and mushroom clouds are quickly seen as symbols for larger ideas, like LGBT issues and nuclear war.
Rainbows are composed of all colors, and as a social symbol, the rainbow encourages the acceptance of all different lifestyles. By layering on the meanings inherent in used clothes, you have an installment spreading a message of community and acceptance of every story, made of materials which are a record of personal histories. The boots at the ends of the rainbow may suggest that in order to achieve social change, everyone has to stand together and give support.
The atomic blast is a particularly powerful piece by Guerra de la Paz. The crumpled appearance of the clothes, containing all of the forgotten personalities of previous owners, further expresses the waste and uselessness of such extreme violence. The clothes of many people were used to create this image, reminding the viewer that nuclear conflict affects everyone on the planet, not just the warring nations. The lives of thousands or millions of people would be carelessly thrown away (just like old socks) if a global conflict ever escalated to the nuclear level.
The duo of Guerra de la Paz is based in Miami, and their exhibitions have appeared widely in the United States and abroad. They are currently participating in a show called High Trash at the Fleming Museum at the University of Vermont, and later this year, will be creating a commissioned installment for the Aichi Triennale in Nagoya, Japan. The bright colors, unique materials, and strong ideological messages make Guerra de la Paz's work truly stand out in the modern art world as not only clever, but also wise.
Keep Your Pants On! To see more of Guerra de la Paz's work, visit their website.
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All images protected and copyrighted by the artist.