Portraits Of The South

I marvel in the faded colors of the cloth she’s twisted into a makeshift turban, its ends tattered and frayed, probably from long hours working in the sun and dusty terrain. A piece of toughened leather bejeweled with rows of cowrie shells encircle her neck almost like a yoke. In a society where people are desperate to cling on to some sort of unattainable ideal through silicone breasts, synthesized beats and infinite internet access via I-Pods and I-Pads, the creativity and vibrancy that emerges from using nature’s most simple materials humbles me.

Their confidence isn’t found in the size of their breasts (clearly) or how much they’ve embraced technology in any shape or form, but in they way they carry themselves. The portraits are inspiring because it reminds me that life can be simple and still fulfilling.

This portrait of a young woman is one of the most compelling portraits I’ve seen. Her stance suggests an air of nonchalance and relaxed self-assurance. A hint of a smile plays around her lips as she regards the camera with an easy gaze. Stylistically from a Western point of view, she complements her shape with a gorgeous piece of what I presume is some kind of animal pelt hanging loosely around her neck like a halter accompanied by layers of wooden beads, metal and leather. Symmetrical piles of copper and silver bangles adorn her arms like rays of sunbeams. She is Nature, Nature is She. It was never meant to be more complicated than that. 

The camera is but a distraction. She turns away because she has more important things on her mind. Fashion isn’t commercial to her; it’s creativity, it’s a way of life, it’s in the way she cares for herself and the way she cares for others. Her turban resembles a mind fruitful with wisdom, her bare shoulders free from the weight of a pressured society. “Lighten the load,” she says. I strive to find that kind of balance in the way I express myself so I, too, can turn the other cheek to insignificant things in my life.

What looks like an ordinary sheet of cloth is transformed into a majestic shawl for the queen that it shields from the sweltering sun. I respect the process of finding beauty in even the most seemingly mundane things.

They bring color to her life, little reminders that what is beautiful is not always tangible, it’s not always contemporary, it’s not always exotic. It touches and connects with the soul without rhyme or reason and exists only in the eye of the beholder. In fashion, inspiration exists outside of the designer department stores and off the runways; they are but pedestals for gods and goddesses who have risen and fallen season after season. If only I can take these reminders with me on a daily basis, I will gain truth in my own creative journey.

images from Philip Gatward

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