In November, Ana Bergero, Fashion Design MFA ’20, won the inaugural SUNY Performing Arts Creation and Curation Prize for her exhibition proposal, Constructing Identities: Gender and Culture in Contemporary Latin America. From 57 entries throughout New York State, five different awards were given. She receives $10,000 to fund the exhibition, tentatively planned for September 15, 2021, the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Born in Argentina and raised in Mexico, Bergero felt alienated in design classes where the standard of beauty was a slim white woman. She also became aware of—and felt the burden of—the tight constraints of femininity she had been taught to perform.
For her MFA thesis, she researched her heritage and created garments that explored aspects of Latinx and Latin American culture, as well as gender identity. Rather than dress models for a runway, she decided to create a theatrical exhibition.
When she heard about the SUNY competition, with “connection” as its theme, Bergero began to reframe her project through this lens. “I was starting with my own personal narrative and going beyond it to see how that personal narrative was connected to a wider cultural landscape.”
She did her research in four parts, each representing one aspect of her identity formation. First, she searched for old family photos, even contacting the historical museum in the Argentine village where her father was born. Next, she photographed dress markets in Mexico where she had shopped for quinceañera accessories as a teen. Third, she researched wooden folk masks in Mexico as she considered the ways in which she masked her identity to fit in with gender and cultural norms. Lastly, she went to a indigenous festival in Oaxaca and photographed Mexican folk dancers as a way of capturing an unabashed celebration of identity.
From this material, she is planning a kind of Carnaval, based on the cultural festival that reverses and distorts traditional gender roles. She created five characters “as a portal to certain aspects of Latinx and Latin American culture,” and designed a dress for each.
“I traced back the femininity I inherited, and I’m owning the kind of femininity I want to build for myself,” she says. “This project was building space for different configurations of identity by first acknowledging that we are not this monolith of how we were born. We have multiple pieces we can play with.”
Bergero’s project was sponsored by Swarovski and Mimaki.