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Onesie World

Kath Melbourne

Part vibrant performance, part impromptu fashion show and part art installation.
Onesie World

Image credit: Kath Melbourne

Onesie World is part vibrant performance, part impromptu fashion show and part art installation. A collaboration that sees lead artist, Australian creative, Adele Varcoe working with fashion design students and musicians from Bloemfontein, South Africa, it’s programmed as a key project for an arts festival in flux, directed by dual Australian and South African citizen, Dr Ricardo Peach.

Symbolic of a festival transforming from one which is traditionally focused on Afrikaans work to one which encompasses the work and involvement of a broad cross section of the cultural community, Onesie World seeks to unite people through a simple premise – bringing together people to wear and make onesies. The onesies themselves (made with grey, yellow, orange or pink sleeves in all sizes) feature a colour print, drawn by Ndukenhle Mpanza, which symbolises the history, upheaval and hopeful reconciliation of South African racial tensions.

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The creative team is collaborative and has an authentic connection with local artists, sewing groups and organisations. These include students from the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Free State, the Bloemfontein Fashion Academy, and students from the Central University of Technology.  The spectacle is enriched and uplifted by local musicians, who create an oral and performative connection to the onesies – and a reason to dance!

This work builds on Varcoe’s visual and participatory performative practice. Projects such as Spotsville (2014) also explore the social and relational impact of fashion and dress, however, this is her first time working in the rich, complex and multilayered community of Bloemfontein.

Onesie World is part of Situate-Art In Festivals. Designed to promote and propagate Australian site specific, installation and performance art in a number of festivals, both nationally and internationally, it’s one of two Situate supported works in the Vrystaat Arts Festival.

Onesie World works well in this environment, and is helped by a broad and diverse English-speaking community and a curiosity that breaks down age, socioeconomic and racial differences, and in this community, like most, they love receiving a free gift. For several receiving onesies it will be the first change of clean clothes in weeks.

The project kicks off with a sewing machine band who tap out a tune encouraging people to wear a onesie and be one (and be comfy). Spontaneous dancing erupts, lines span out across the square. Among the crowd are families (how cute are small people in onesies?) black, white, brown, young and old. They stream out of and mill about the square in a brilliant riot of colourful onesies.

A colourfully dressed young performer spruiks the crowd in English, Sotho and broken Afrikaans, espousing the power of the onesie and enticing them from their shyness.

The 650 onesies run out within the hour. Project participants furiously try to keep up with demand. At one point the Producer fears a riot may break out. The concept is clearly popular.

Later that afternoon a young street kid wearing a onesie approaches me for money, I catch a glimpse of a council street sweeper going about her job in a more colourful outfit than usual. The next day at a festival event I see two Afrikaans guys in heavy beards rocking out to African drumming still in onesies.

The aim of Onesie World is to bring together different communities to feel a sense of unity and togetherness. Not that a lifetime under Aparteid can be cured by a onesie, but for a moment it was possible to connect over the similarities, the recognition of the other wearing a onesie and not through the lens of difference.

4 stars

Onesie World
Artist: Adele Varcoe
UFS Curators: Angela de Jesus,
Cornell van den Berg and Kezia Gerber
Creative team: Ndukenhle Mpanza, Nkatso Motaung, and Marjorie Human
Onesie makers: Leinaeng Library sewing group, Doretha Jacobs and Bloemfontein community members, students from Bloemfontein Fashion Academy and Central University of Technology, Annette’s Creative Sewing, and Elrie Joubert
Musicians: Dewald Bux, Osiriis, Kay da Word, Adri Maryke Smit, Jaco de Wet, Belinda and Ditaba Kotsi
Sound: Creative Kilowatt

Hoffman Square, Bloemfontein, South Africa
As part of Vrystaat Arts Festival
21 July 2017

 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Kath Melbourne is a Tasmanian arts executive who has led multi art festivals, innovative government initiatives and produced large-scale dance, circus and theatre productions in Australia, Asia and Europe. She's worked in Aboriginal communities, outback towns and off the side of 20 storey buildings. Right now she's taking a well-earned year off, studying, gardening and reviewing for Arts Hub Australia. She does not tweet.

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