We sat down with Gogo Graham to learn about her SS20 collection and short film, in which she sonically and visually interrogates what it means for trans folks, particularly trans femmes, to operate in traditional workplaces.
‘Cleo is a myth. Cleo is a woman’
Gogo Graham’s SS20 film, ‘Cleo’s Fable’ begins with these words, solidifying the duality that is carefully unwoven and deconstructed, sonically and visually, throughout her short film and SS20 reveal. Check out the film below:
This concept was birthed in a conversation about trans workplace access with Cecilia, one of the models of the collection, sex worker rights advocate and former Director of Policy at GMHC, a social services agency that works with HIV affected individuals. The second model, Chanelle Sessooms, also works at GMHC, leading reproductive justice work for trans folks. Both of these women were carefully selected for this particular collection.
‘They are both women of a different generation than me, inspiring to me and others because of the activism and labor they put into the trans community, particularly trans women of color and sex workers. I wanted to work with both of them to create these looks that feel like they come out of a fantasy workplace that doesn’t really exist, but exists more through them and their labor. It exists in them and what they create. It exists for me in some ways, because of them.’
Scored and compiled by Gogo herself, the glitching vocals, eerie choppiness, and narrative touch take the viewer deep into the realm of what feels like an intimate journal entry. Featuring a spoken-word-esque sound collage by Gogo, distorted over a consistent bell-like ringing, the passage of time throughout this film feels halted and also expedited. There is not a total understanding of whether this dream-state that the viewer is engaging with is in the past, present, or future.
‘The fantasy world comes from the acceptance of trans identity and womanhood in this film that has only recently emerged in many professional workplaces.’
Through model selection, narrative building, and presentation, Gogo is overwhelmingly thoughtful about being the platform to curate and broadcast narratives that feel salient for her models and contributors. She is compiling a collective narrative, a combined history, a conversation with those who came before her and will come after her.
‘My hand is involved in the making, the creation, but I hope to give space for folks to express how they feel about what I’ve created and place their own narrative onto it. If it didn’t resonate, it would be apparent in the presentation. And I think that happens a lot in the fashion world — people don’t always take the time to connect with the people who they are asking to represent their brand.’
After attending Gogo Graham’s FW19 presentation at New Museum, this becomes even more apparent. The honesty and intimacy of the work was matched if not exceeded by the energy her model’s brought to the presentation, furthering the impact of what Gogo conceptualized. In case you missed it, read about GOGO GRAHAM F/W 2019 here.
Despite the sterileness of the set and ambiance, and the plastic-like feel of the wigs, the dolls, and even the poses to an extent, Gogo creates a very raw and personal film. Its intimacy is only heightened by the juxtaposition with this concocted sterility.
The blow-up sex doll that is present throghout this film is the one element through which Gogo Graham inserts herself outside of her collection and curation. As this doll sporadically pops up, and often even obscures or covers the model, Gogo makes a powerful statement on the subversive and omnipresent objectification of trans femmes throughout history.
‘You are living your life, thinking that what you are doing has nothing to do with your physical appearance, your body, sex. In this case, getting ready for an office job! And then all of a sudden, it pops up. It reminds us that we, trans femmes, are viewed by so many people as these plastic, lifeless sex dolls.’
While this may be vaguely appropriate in sex work and so on, this omnipresent objectification is apparent in contexts where trans femmes bodies and sex are not part of how they gain capital. It is still part of the equation. And while consuming this fantasy dream-like state of radical trans femme acceptance, we remember that.
Film: Gabriela Rivera Morales @bruta_rising
Photos: Leah James @femmedaddy
Writing: Sarah Zarina Hakani @sarah.zarina