To live in the diaspora in the West is to be within reaching distance of a distinct kind of cultural richness. Growing up in an immigrant household, you’re exposed to a vast archive of intergenerational migrant histories which you have to juggle alongside navigating the cues and codes that come with being the product of seemingly disparate cultures.
It’s this unique intersection of existence where Chelsea Siobhan and Kid Circus found themselves when they created their collaborative photography series, ‘Bend But Don’t Break’ – a sweet ode to cultural creativity and the immigrant experience.
“It showcases the talent and product of young creatives who grew up in a Western society in immigrant households,” Siobhan says of the project. “We are both from an African diaspora background and wanted to celebrate colour, pattern and texture and how they play a central role in many other cultures, besides African-Caribbean traditional dressing.”
In every image lensed, it’s the garments that take the centre stage. Be it the tastefully garish Egyptian kitsch and trash couture aesthetics that sprawl across the figure-hugging, translucent body suits of Ahmed Serour: a Cairo-born designer spinning iconoclastic, gender-bending garments for a new age. Or the soft decadence oozing from the baroque-esque, gilded patterns that embellish Atelier Mundane’s 3-piece set - scores of deep, azure blues and honeyed golds aplenty.
“I felt like there was a gap in which Middle Eastern culture was being missed,” Siobhan explains. “Dashiki and Carnival culture from my own background have become quite popular in mainstream fashion. But, I’ve always been interested in learning and representing other parts of the world – especially through my styling work.”
‘Bend But Don’t Break’ playfully navigates the terrains of clothing, movement and the body as art, all the while exhibiting the multitude of dimensions that inform the immigrant experience. Riffing off ‘90s Versace visuals, Clara, the model, flexes in a series of impossible positions: arms stretched upwards, torso lunging forwards, back bent over double, legs hung high - her body evolving from a simple assemblage of limbs and shapes, instead, blossoming into a site of cultural exchange and powerful femininity. In Siobhan and Kid Circus’ world, the female, marginalised body is free to take up as much space as she likes - her essence acting as a forum for untold discourses to unfold.
All in all, though, ‘Bend But Don’t Break’ comes together best as a homage to the power of solidarity; a fearless demonstration of the vital role of intergenerational and cross-cultural sharing of dialogues in moulding the modern diasporic experience.
Words by Linda Sou