When it comes to understanding and articulating our personal and collective identities, creativity is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Final year School of the Art Institute of Chicago fashion student Jeneane Xiang Desilets has taken that to the next level with her project One/Half, inspired by her experiences growing up in the US as a Chinese adoptee.
Growing up north of Boston, Jeneane was adopted from Maoming in China’s Guangdong province at 6 months old. “This sounds a bit odd, but growing up in a primarily caucasian suburb I sort of ‘forgot’ that I am Chinese” she explains. Indeed, it wasn’t until a study trip to her home country during the summer semester of her sophomore year that the idea of exploring her identity really took hold. “I had been to China with my parents, dabbled in trying to learn Mandarin and gone to cultural camps but it wasn’t until I came to college that people started to highlight the fact that I was ‘other’ which, is why I started thinking more about how I want to define myself”.
Although unwelcome, that feeling of otherness has been channeled into a compelling and detailed research project for Jeneane. Her process is striking, supplanting sketchbooks for old children’s books which she draws and collages in to quickly express and explore new ideas. “Sketchbooks are too pristine and feel precious” she declares, “instead I have the permission to change the narrative, playing with the pre-existing context”. That feeling of play and control in relation to context is something that always drew Jeneane towards fashion. “I like puzzles and figuring out how to put things together” she admits, “fashion holds my attention because of the constant challenges it presents”.
One of those challenges is collaboration, however, that’s something that Jeneane has found pretty straightforward, despite the personal nature of the project. Working with friends on the textile prints, shoes and photoshoots, being bold enough to trust others to deliver has paid off handsomely. The result is an initial collection that looks incredibly professional, with four or five more looks still to come, anchored to various research focuses throughout Jeneane’s thesis.
A thorough investigation of the ‘circumstantial’ nature of her identity, One/Half builds the foundations for an empathetic experience of being an outsider in both your country of birth and the one you call home. It’s a fascinating collection and we’re excited to see how it grows in the coming months as Jeneane works towards graduation in the summer.