Why All the Costumes, Makeup, Rhinestones, and Glitter?


Photo: ©Niki Grangruth & James Kinser
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Believe it or not, that’s actually something I ask myself quite often! Despite those having been my go-to choice of mediums for many years now, I think it’s important for myself and other artists to step back and question why we do what we do. Generally, I find it imbues my work with a consciousness, certainty, and openness to change that wouldn’t be present otherwise. But here’s a deeper insight that might better answer that question.

I think it’s important… to step back and question why we do what we do.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had these internal parts of myself that loved stereotypically feminine things: braiding my friend’s dolls’ hair, rainbows and unicorns (not even kidding), and elegant dresses. At the same time, I had a lot of internal parts that were stereotypically masculine: rough-housing with my brothers, running around, and getting grimy while playing in the sandbox. Eventually, I learned that some of those internal parts were more socially acceptable than others. So I adapted to fit in and get others’ acceptance. Years later though, I realized that those feminine parts that were shoved aside never went away. They persisted, and I started to bravely listen to them as generously and carefully as I did all of my masculine parts.

Recently, I came across a video by Derek Scott, a therapist who utilizes the Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy model. Centered on the idea that our self is composed of a collection of internal subpersonalities or parts, Derek applied this model to gender and sexuality.


Photo: ©Niki Grangruth & James Kinser
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He stated that each of these internal parts retain their own gender expression and sexuality, and collectively, they are what informs or comprises a person’s overall sexual orientation and gender identity. Understanding this idea was transformational to me.

I could now understand that masculine and feminine internal parts didn’t have to be at combat with each other.

It also allowed me to understand that my artistic practice is an active way of listening to all of those internal parts in a fair and equal way. From their collective, I have learned so much. It is their unique chorus of voices that has had me put rhinestones on football pads; and design and construct costumes with traditionally feminine shapes and apply them to a masculine form. More than ever, I understand that my creative practice is centered upon the desire to externalize the unique internal makeup of my whole self — all parts embraced without shame or exile.

So back to my original question…

Why all the costumes, makeup, rhinestones, and glitter? In short, it reveals who I really am: my most unbridled and beautiful collection of internal parts I call my self. And ultimately, I believe it is this creative practice and exploration that will have me look back at the end of my life — hopefully many years from now — and say “Yes, I fulfilled my purpose.”

Of Spirit and Sparkle

Nearly eight years ago, I was introduced to Authentic Movement, a practice of shifting one’s awareness from the mind into the full body as one performs free associative movement. Since then, it has been a regular element of my creative practice. As Janet Adler noted in her book Offerings from the Conscious Body, energetic phenomena can be part of an authentic mover’s experience. As such is the case for me, I often feel waves of energy, light and color moving through my physical body and sometimes the space around my body. These sensations and experiences are accompanied with a joyful, bright and happy emotion. As I’ve grown accustomed to this phenomena in my movement (and at times in my everyday life), I realize that in these moments I feel most connected to the Divine* and sense that a non-linear message or chunk of knowledge is being delivered to me.

For example, during the past year of my authentic movement practice, I have repeatedly found myself lying flat on the floor with my arms extended near my sides with my palms up. My mind is in a meditative state, quiet except for conscious awareness of movement impulses with in my body. Mind and body are relaxed yet attentive. My heart and chest feel warm and open as if my rib cage and skin do not contain the swelling bubble of energy within. The energy eventually reaches out of my body and to the heavens. I feel white light return, beaming down and creating a loop cycle. My awareness shifts to the palms of my hands. My fingers are spread as if holding something round. I experience a tingle like a light draft is passing across them. The tingle begins to flow and fold in upon itself, recycling, growing. In my minds eye, I see white glowing orbs of energy in my palms. They vary in size. The more I connect with the experience, the more the orbs grow in size, brightness and intensity, and initiate the flow of the light and energy through the rest of my body. In these moments I feel ecstatic, alive, vibrant, uninhibited and available to the Divine. These experiences can last for a mere moment or they can be prolonged for several minutes. Regardless of the amount of time, each experience fills me with joy as if I have connected with my Creator and have moved one step closer to fulfilling my Divine purpose in this life. I luxuriate in these moments and slowly bring my awareness and consciousness back to the the physical space I am inhabiting. I do so slowly as to honor the experience and retain the memory within my mind and body.

Rhinestone FootballAbout five years ago, I felt compelled to cover a football in rhinestones. (Stick with me. I promise this relates to the accounts detailed above.) After 24 non-consecutive hours of gluing thousands of rhinestones, the football seemed an adequate metaphor for the mashup of masculinity and femininity that is often central to my work. Shortly thereafter, I began having visions of football pads covered in rhinestones. Knowing the amount of work and expense that would be involved, I moved on to other projects. After two years’ passing, I finally listened to the recurring impulse and began collecting materials and working on the project. (Read my recent post Football, Fear & Fringe for an initial insight into the project.) The underlying notions of the project have continued to address and digest fear. However, as art making is a ritual of transforming my life, it should have come as no surprise to me when the project led me to murkier places, deep crevices ripe for the Alchemist’s touch. On the flip side of fear, I’m learning how to love more – myself and others.

rhinestone-palmAnd now, as I hold rhinestones in the palm of my hand before tweezing them into place, consciously feeling that familiar orb of energy, I find myself reaching out in faith to the Divine. I find peace in the placement of each rhinestone, a confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, and a knowing that this sparkly ritual is a prayer to the heavens for transformation such that I may better fulfill my spirit’s purpose.

*I use the term Divine, Universe, Divine Creator, Spirit as proxy for God as they carry less dogma and negative associations for me. However, I view them all as the same.