Three years ago, Turkish-born, Brooklyn-based Pinar Yolacan emerged into the art scene with a series of portraits of women wearing clothes made from offal—tripe, mostly, fashioned into ruffled blouses and lacy-looking sweaters. Her follow-up, which opens today at the Rivington Arms gallery in New York, is a second series of meat-as-fashion moments. This time around, the women are Afro-Brazilian, dressed in the style of the Portuguese colonizers, and the organ in question is the placenta of cows. That sounds repulsive, but like Yolacan’s earlier photographs, these have a strange and haunting beauty. Here, she explains why meat is her medium.
How, exactly, do you make clothes from meat?
I make the clothes the morning of the shoot, so the meat doesn’t rot. In Bahia, I froze it beforehand, so it wouldn’t get smelly, because it’s really hot. It’s quite domestic, really—I have to buy meat, clean up, sew. For this series, I got the fabrics in local markets, and the meat, too. I try to accentuate each woman’s skin tone and expression with the clothes; I take Polaroids of them when I first meet them, then I work from those.
What’s the experience like for the sitters? It’s got to be a bit unsettling being draped in raw meat.
Some of the women in this series practice candomblé, a kind of voodoo. So for them, wearing meat wasn’t degrading, it was flattering; they thought it had something to do with the gods. The clothes are quite constricting, because they’re heavy—especially since the meat is frozen. It forces them to sit a certain way, which isn’t necessarily very comfortable. For me, the clothes are like a second skin they need to get used to. Which is what most Western fashion is, historically.
Once you’ve taken the photo, the clothes you make get thrown away—there’s a sense of impermanence to your work. Can you talk about that?
There’s a feeling that art is permanent, that people are permanent. I don’t think that way. We’re not permanent—we die, things rot. It’s a really male thing, actually, to think, “here’s my sculpture, it’s going to be here forever,” or “here’s my body, it’s going to be here forever.”
What’s the significance of the title of the series, “Maria”?
A lot of the women have very long Portuguese names that they don’t use or even always remember. And it almost always includes Maria, because of the Catholic heritage of the Portuguese. And of course there’s the icon of the Virgin Mary, who’s usually depicted as blond and wearing a little bit of makeup. None of these women look like that, so it’s also a comment on ideas of beauty.
You’re a former fashion-design student turned artist. Are you spoofing on fashion in your work?
I think I’m commenting on fashion, but more in the way an anthropologist would. The clothes in this series relate to colonial Portuguese fashions. I could have done African clothes, or geometric clothes—Issey Miyake meets Africa—but I wasn’t interested in that. When you put on the clothes of another culture, it changes how you stand, how you feel, the gestures you make. I find that really fascinating.