SPRUIKING MY WARES
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Strengths, disabilities & McQueen
It’s amazing how those who inspire others to great heights, those whose lives cause others to strive and emulate, those who are worshipped or envied from afar can find those very lives a dark burden. They can find craters in those lives so deep they can no longer be negotiated.
I’m not a huge fashion aficionado but, over the years, my work has taken me behind the runways in the local fashion scene and I appreciate the artistry and hard graft that goes into beautiful clothes. So I was saddened to hear of the death of Alexander McQueen, especially as it seems it was at his own hands.
Did you know Alexander McQueen once created hand carved prosthetic legs for a woman called Aimee Mullins who is an athlete, motivational speaker, actress and model? She is also a double amputee. She modelled these beautiful, artful creations on a McQueen runway in 1999. In a truly engaging and meaningful presentation at TED last February, almost a year from Alexander’s death, and this is what she said:
“I did my first runway show for Alexander McQueen on a pair of hand-carved wooden legs made from solid ash. Nobody knew - everyone thought they were wooden boots. Actually, I have them on stage with me: Grapevines, magnolias, truly stunning. Poetry matters. Poetry is what elevates the banal and neglected object to a realm of art. It can transform the thing that might have made people fearful into something that invites them to look, and look a little longer, and maybe even understand.”
Later she observes: “And that's when I knew that the conversation with society has changed profoundly in this last decade. It is no longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency. It's a conversation about augmentation. It's a conversation about potential. A prosthetic limb doesn't represent the need to replace loss anymore. It can stand as a symbol that the wearer has the power to create whatever it is that they want to create in that space ... I think that if we want to discover the full potential in our humanity, we need to celebrate those heartbreaking strengths and those glorious disabilities that we all have.”
Heartbreaking strengths and glorious disabilities, how gorgeous are those two terms? You see these strengths every day and they make me proud (and humbled) to be human, a feeling that waxes and wanes. I felt it when I lunched with a woman this week who’d just lost her husband. The grief glistened, just below the mascara and, yet, I saw her two days later, in full couture, ready to donate her time and mentor some young creative professionals in a role she’d committed to before her loss.
I saw it when I watched The Children’s Ward on TV and saw two little boys who’d been maimed by fucking land mines promise each other they’d never pick anything that looked like a pen again on the road - in Afghanistan one child is killed or injured every day by unexploded munitions.
“I know,” said six-year-old Murtaza, his left arm ending in a stub, his right one sporting one or two blackened fingers and some stumps. “Mummy and Daddy can buy my pens.”
Why did Alexander do it? What was the heartbreak he could not overcome, the disability that was not glorious?
Have a look at the Aimee Mullins video if you’re feeling a bit hard done by today, if some arsehole cut you off in traffic, if you’ve just had the bad test result, the screaming child’s tantrum, the bill that can’t be paid. It won’t change anything in a tangible sense I guess but it will remind us what fine creatures we can be and why it’s worth hanging on just a bit longer to see what fine creatures can do together.