Nick Cave is an American fabric sculptor, dancer and performance artist. He began creating his Soundsuit series in an attempt to process his trauma associated with the 1992 Los Angeles riots. These full-body, wearable sculptures act as symbols of endurance and a form of protection by obscuring all signs of the wearer’s race, gender, age and class. Bearing some resemblance to African ceremonial costumes, Cave’s Soundsuits are made from everyday materials sourced largely from flea markets, including dyed human hair, plastic buttons, beads and feathers. They are joyous and spectacular, reminiscent of a marching band in procession. Cave’s Soundsuits rattle and resonate when worn in performance.
Introduce your students to the related works of art and use the following discussion prompts to explore the formation and expression of identity:
- What does identity mean? How do we express our identity?
- How do factors such as our culture and events in our lives shape our identity? How does the way we view ourselves differ from the way we view others?
- How does Soundsuit, 2015, hide the identity of the wearer?
Consider the way it obscures the face, the body, the voice, the walk and mannerisms of the wearer.
- The Soundsuit series was created in response to a violent event in the artist’s home country. Why did the artist respond in this way? How does the idea of hiding your identity relate to issues of violence?
- What is a symbol? What can constitute a symbol?
- What symbols can you see embedded in Soundsuit? Can you see the flowers and the red and white target? Why did the artist include these symbols in his works? How do they enrich the meaning of the artwork?
- Before beginning the Create activity, reflect on events in your life that have influenced your life and shaped your identity as a young person. How could these events be turned into symbols?
For example, a significant birthday might be symbolised by candles, cake, joyful colours, the number of the person’s age, or shapes which represent community, love, celebration and happiness.