There are few items of clothing as socially, politically and racially charged as the hoodie. It has come to represent a modern day parable of social inequality, youth culture, racism, fear and style all at once. It’s also the star of a new exhibition curated by Lou Stoppard at the Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, open until April 12.
“The hoodie sparks a range of emotions, communicating all manner of social and cultural ideas and nuances depending on the gender, geography, age, conduct and ethnicity of the wearer and, in turn, the prejudices and politics of the viewer,” Stoppard writes. To many, the hoodie has been a linchpin of streetwear, and more recently, a staple item in advertising, on catwalks of high fashion and wardrobe classic that can declare association with a school, a team or serve comfort for a plane ride. To others, its complexities go way beyond just that.
In the exhibition, which is simply titled “The Hoodie”, the complicated associations involved with the sweatshirt are explored through photography, film, installation and fashion. In it, the hoodie’s links with ideas of race, social inequality, youth culture and opposition against police brutality are all explored equally.
Featured in the exhibition are hoodie-themed works by leading artists like David Hammons, Sasha Huber, Lucy Orta and designers like Virgil Abloh, Rick Owens, and Vexed Generation. Put simply, the hoodie is ripe for reconsideration in our politically-charged times. Stoppard recalls its emergence as a symbol of controversy and has made sure to include news footage that show it.
“There was a whole period around 2006 in the UK press when the Conservative government launched the “hug a hoodie” campaign that was hooked around ideas of social injustice, violence and youth crime. Remember the images of the London riots? Every newspaper would pick a shot of someone in a hoodie or a tracksuit to run on the front page,” she says. “There are a lot of issues around race, particularly in America with cases like Trayvon Martin, where the hoodie is then reclaimed as a symbol of protest. And if you look at racist policies like stop and search in the UK and who they are targeted at, a lot of this comes down to perceptions on dress.”
Commissioned works of films by Bogomir Doringer make an appearance at the exhibition, which are largely based around his Faceless project which explores the preponderance of masked faces in the arts as well as questions around privacy and CCTV. Artist Angelica Falkeling has made an installation that looks at cotton production and the vast amount of hoodies that are manufactured year upon year.
Stoppard read an op-ed by Troy Patterson in The New York Times which asked the simple question: who enjoys the right to wear a hoodie without any challenge? This launched Stoppard into exploring our contradictory codes of status and control. The hoodie isn’t as demonised in Silicon Valley as it is elsewhere. It’s work by some of the most powerful and influential men. “I thought a lot about how we move through the world in our clothing and who can enter any space without thinking about it, and who is questioned constantly for their choices,” she said. Her aim is that the exhibition acknowledges the reality of anyone who has ever experienced profiling first hand.
Upon entering the show, viewers are confronted with a display of rules from different institutions about “acceptable” items of dress. Earlier this year, the Netherlands’ burqa ban came into effect, further inspiring Stoppard research. “I hope it gets people thinking about legislation around clothing because I don’t think we realise how common it is. When people read about the burqa ban in the news they might not think it has anything to do with them if they don’t personally wear one, but actually, this issue of regulation around clothing, this constant surveillance, effects everyone,” she says. “We need to push back against it.”