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What is religion?

Scrolling through my Instagram feed whilst procrastinating from doing my Anthropology of Religion revision, I was unable to avoid the colossal media coverage of the MET Gala 2018.

The Costume Institute Gala at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art attracts some of the biggest celebrities; encouraging donations from them in order to raise money for the Met’s Costume Institute. Preceding the grand opening of the annual exhibition; this year the theme was: Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.

Without a shadow of a doubt the outfits were incredible; think Anne Hathaway’s halo, wings and catholic crosses gracing the necks of many a celebrity.

Emilia Clarke in Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda looked like she’d stepped straight out of a medieval fantasy, with golden embroidery and young cupids adorning a sculpted dress and finished with an ornate gold and rubied headpiece

Lily Collins in Givenchy Haute Couture for me emulated a tasteful representation of the brief; she looked heavenly and, adorned with an understated halo-like headpiece tread a careful line between Saint and Sinner.

Katy Perry and Versace, I salute you! A winged goddess, engulfed in gold and truly taking centre stage – you cannot get more heavenly than an angel with wings larger than 1.7m; was she really just going to fly away..?

I feel that Gucci hit the nail on the head with Lana Del Rey and Jared Leto looking like they had stepped out of Maleficent; winged headdress, pierced heart, Lana looked purely sacrificial and I LOVED it.

But for some reason I found the direction that some people had taken the theme made me feel uncomfortable. The plethora of other short pieces circulating the internet indicate that I am not alone in this. So rather than say that these themes should not be brought into clickbait or should not be on the catwalk, maybe we should think what religion means to us.

Yes, this is partly to do with my current ‘exam mode’ mindset where I am constantly questioning the meaning behind everything I see. But some of the portrayals of the ‘theme’ in question did not sit right with me. As I was scrolling through I kept on asking myself whether the celebrity or designer in question was, in themselves, religious. Whether they understood the connotations of their ‘halo-type’ headdress or the Virgin Mary motive. I kept on wondering whether this could be appropriation.

With a theme such as heavenly bodies though I wonder to what extent they could have kept their designs out of the religious realm; instead of focussing on the ‘Catholic Imagination’, we could have seen the glorification of the beautiful individuals that graced the event.

Rather than purely glorifying ‘religious images’ and invariably removing the discussion of religion from them, these forms of art are actually opening up a platform; one in which we can discuss WHY and HOW these sorts of images create a feeling of unsettlement.

But these are just my musings; I do not intend to even attempt to understand the position that each designer has come from because ultimately this is art, an attempt of self-expression and a way of interpreting the brief. There should always be a freedom of expression; for a designer to be able to express themselves in whatever way they see fit.

WORDS BY ALICE HARRISON

@WANDERLANDH
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