All dressed up: What do our clothes say about us?

Kristine Diederich

What do our clothes say about us our insides as well as our outsides?

"Dress Redress," an exhibit at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, poses that question.

Eight diverse artists participated in this unique collection of expressive works. Each artist interpreted the exhibit's theme of addressing the relationship between clothing and identity. Paint, metal, plaster, paper, textiles and more are fashioned into visions of personal expression and cultural commentary. The exhibit runs through Sept. 25.

Exhibit curator Lisa Lynch, who is also director of the arts and external relations at the Women's Center, said this is the first exhibit at the center displayed both indoors in the gallery space and outdoors in the garden, where the metal sculptures of Boston artist Leslie Wilcox are installed.

Lynch said the genesis of the show was Wilcox's work clothing trees in steel "garments" that she called whimsical yet thought-provoking.

"I thought I'd love to put Leslie's work outside," she said. "To me, what's so significant about the work (is) the trees come alive with the clothing."

With a background in fashion design, Wilcox began working with metal, and the two mediums eventually integrated. Her unique garments wrap around selected trees in the garden space just steps from the gallery doors and elsewhere on the Brandeis campus.

"I wanted my work to relate to the outside somehow so I ended up feeling that the tree is sort of like a (person's) trunk; it's similar in scale to the human body," said Wilcox. "I really wanted to make a city space more humanized."

Inspired by the personal stories of regular people, Carol Hamoy explored a different aspect of humanity with her mixed media installation, "Welcome to America," to celebrate the stories of immigrant women who came to the United States between 1892 to 1992.

"I interviewed people from all over the world," said the New York artist. "My work is about women and I collect stories about women, and often I use garments, clothing, as the foundation for telling a story."

With a background in the garment industry, she then used her dressmaking skills to create dresses one for each person she interviewed and hung them from the ceiling by a thin wire at about the height of the individual.

Each garment is lettered with the first name of the woman, where she came from and when she arrived in the United States. Hamoy crystalized the stories of these immigrants into a sentence or two that represented the heart of their journeys and also lettered that onto each garment.

She created each dress out of scraps of lace, old doilies, bureau scarves, wedding gowns and other fabrics then dyed them in coffee or tea for an aged effect. The result is an intimate and personal snapshot of these women's reflections, as if gazing into their closets and dresser drawers. Each garment represents an ordinary woman, her thoughts and accomplishments.

"Marking the life of a woman who has not achieved fame or fortune, a woman only known within her family, has great importance and value for me," Hamoy wrote in her artist's statement.

"It was one of the most moving and emotional projects I ever worked on," she said.

The installation has an eerie yet gentle feel, like that of a roomful of friendly ghosts. Because each individual garment is hung by one wire, it will move when visitors walk by. Hamoy welcomed visitors to touch the dresses, gently, and to walk through them, noting how their own movement through the installation then made the dresses move, and to contemplate how their action integrated into the installation as a whole.

Other artists participating in this exhibit are Aparna Agrawal, Candice Smith Corby, Maryjean Viano Crowe, Sandra Eula Lee, Esther Solondz and Andrew Thompson.

Each artist in the exhibit used different mediums and different thought processes in analyzing the role of clothing in their work and in society. Ultimately, the viewer must use their own experiences and life lessons along with the examples of these artists and their suggested perspectives to draw their own conclusions about the robe of identity humans wear.

"Dress Redress" is on exhibit through Sept. 25 at the Kniznick Gallery and outdoors at the Women's Studies Research Center, Brandeis University, 515 South St., Waltham, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Weekends by appointment: 781-736-8102. Admission is free. For more information about the exhibit and related events, visit