Trappings Press

The Chapell Hill News

Women find power and direction through clothing
Orange Cultural Arts Group
By Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki

Published: Friday, July 18, 2003

The question "What do women wear that makes them feel powerful?" was asked to Orange County women over a week’s time in April, when our collaborative project, “Two Girls Working,” brought Trappings to Orange County through funding from the Orange County Arts Council’s Artist Project Grant.

Trappings is an ongoing interview-based project of multiple parts that begin in October 2001. Interview sessions are the first aspect of the artwork, where women are invited to a social, interview environment to discuss what they wear to make them feel powerful.

Exhibitions of Trappings, which include images and audio interviews, were held in multiple locations during 2002 and 2003, including the Durham Arts Council, the North Carolina Council on the Arts and the Longwood Gallery in New York. An ongoing and expanding presentation of the work exists online at

Scores of interesting, thought-provoking and responsive women participated in interview sessions designed to get them talking about the process, responsibility and outcome of being an image maker. Our question ignites conversations concerning clothing, power and the construction of personal identity both for the camera and for each other. This has initiated dialogues that range from simple descriptions of an outfit’s comfort and practicality as a tool for power to the use of sex as a strategy in business and social settings as well as the use of clothing as a way to connect with cultural or personal history as power sources.

In Orange County, we met with a group of women who live at Carol Woods, the Carr-Court Quilters, the performance art group the Country Kings, the staff of the Women’s Center and their after-school group Teens Climb High, and a group of young women, staff and friends of Street Scene.

If we were only able to take up the entire edition of this newspaper, we could talk about each of the women that we met. All of the interview sessions were compelling, touching and fun. Some of the responses we received include:

-- A woman who wears her grandmother’s coat to connect with the strong women in her family and her personal history.

-- A teenage community organizer who wears African kente cloth to remind herself of the power derived from her cultural heritage.

-- An activist whose circular brooch signifies the need for women to claim their own power to connect, communicate and challenge the world around us.

-- A participant who wears men’s clothing, finding power and identity outside of traditional gender rules.

-- A woman whose best Sunday hat reminds her of the power connected to church and family.

Trappings grew from our dismay at the lack of dialogue about feminism and women’s issues amongst our peers. We initiated Trappings to create a platform for women to talk about power, identity, and women’s issues in a non-threatening and approachable way. We understaood that an event or project that called for an overt discussion of feminism would strategically draw less participation, so we begin with a question everyone addresses in order to reach the most women possible.

We designed Trappings to not be a vehicle that merely presents our own viewpoints about feminism and power, but to be a vehicle for participants and project viewers to explore their own ideas about power, as well as question their own expectations, beliefs and assumptions based on appearance. We want the project to be responsive and not illustrative, and are committed to reaching out to a diverse range of women’s voices. In the end, we hope the project blurs the lines of art, activism, public art, advocacy, communication and networking.

So far, we have met with more than 170 women from North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Mississippi and Tennessee. If you would like to hear audio interviews and see images of the women we have interviewed, images of past exhibitions and future projects, visit our Web site, We would like to thank all of the women who participated in Trappings this April. We loved meeting all of you! Thank you also to the Orange County Arts Commission for funding this round of interview sessions.