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Githan Coopoo On The Power and Play Of Getting Dressed

As a ceramic jeweller, a power dresser and the assistant curator of the costume institute at a contemporary art museum, costume plays an important role in all aspects of Githan Coopoo’s life. An art history major, Githan is fascinated by the symbols of culture and identity that clothing and accessories can be. He understands the power – and play – of getting dressed, and finds self expression in subverting gender norms through fashion.

In December last year, Githan was part of Femme In Public, a collective of gender non-conforming creatives and queer activists who walked through the streets of Cape Town using fashion as a means of protesting violence against feminine expression, and simultaneously celebrating gender liberation.

Mere sartorial punctuation for most, earrings are usually the first thing you notice about Githan’s outfits. Partly because it’s unfortunately uncommon to see feminine ear pieces in close proximity to distinguished facial hair and partly because, well, they’re usually massive. Githan comes from a lineage of Indian jewellers on his father’s side of the family and can be seen displaying his South Asian heritage quite literally in a pair of gujarati earrings. On other days it’s diamanté drops or thick silver hoops. The biggest however, are the avant garde clay creations he makes himself. The sculptural jewellery Githan makes is a study in materiality, fragility and human nature. As wearable ceramics that are easily broken, Githan’s pieces require a gentleness when handled, which he hopes will be a reminder to the wearer to be gentle with themselves and others. 

What does adornment and costume mean in your life?

I am a firm believer that to engage with one’s body, in terms of dress and the practise of clothing oneself, is to engage with the universe. By this I mean that notions of adornment and costume are deeply symbolic processes in my life. They allow for the imbuing of depth in everyday activities that would otherwise seem mundane and habitual.   

Have you always played with dress or has it been an evolution? 

It has been a development. I think I’ve always been interested in the signifiers of clothes; whether that meant wearing a skating brand t-shirt in primary school like Volcom or Hurley, even though I was in no way engaged with skateboarding as an activity, or treating myself to getting acrylic nails like I do now every couple of months. I was always interested in how garments, brand affiliations and cultural signifiers gained one entrance into a certain subculture or group. I play with my sense of dress now more than ever.

How does your heritage play a role in your identity and how you choose to express it?

I think growing up, like most children, I had a deep longing to belong and fit in. In this process, I never really engaged with my cultural heritage as Hindu and of Indian decent. I’ve come to realise that there is a rich and beautifully visual language to my culture that I denied myself for many years, and to make amends with myself, I channel and celebrate my heritage in the fullest capacity, in conjunction with the person I have grown to become today. In this way, one sense of self does not dictate the other, but rather, they co-exist harmoniously.

What else influences how you present yourself to the world?

I am always in awe of the various symbols and motifs that celebrate womanhood, and the power force that women are as a community. Otherwise, I am influenced by the ingenuity of others in their self-representation: people who are incredibly true to themselves, the people I follow on Instagram, the people who exist in my daily life. They give me confidence to be myself without fear.

How is playing with gender cues through fashion perceived in a city like Cape Town?

As much as I want to believe otherwise, Cape Town is a very conservative city. I find that my presence and the way I present myself publicly is celebrated by some and equally offends others. While this can be disheartening, I choose rather to focus on the capacity for good that I can perpetuate by being honest to myself, and enabling others to feel comfortable to embrace themselves.

What’s the vision you have for your own creations? 

I am happy with the way my pieces have been received. Currently, I’d just like to begin a solid production system and website so I can distribute them abroad. They exist as a creative outlet that I am very grateful to have. In the future, I’d also really like to collaborate with individuals who I am inspired by.

Follow Githan on Instagram

Interview and Photography by Alix-Rose Cowie

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