Outsiderwear: For an inclusive art world

‘If our careers falter, we can always start a dating agency,’ Jan Hoek tells Iris Ruisch. For Outsiderwear, an initiative by Jan Hoek and Wieger Windhorst, Hoek and Ruisch paired established designers from the insider fashion world with talented makers from the outside art world. These worlds rarely if ever meet. Outsiderwear shows that it is possible to do things differently.

Outsiderwear starts with Bruin Parry,’ says Hoek. ‘When he was a child, I used to babysit him. Even then, we were making work together. These days, Bruin works with me four days a week in the studio.’ Artist Bruin Parry has – in Hoek’s words – ‘a little chromosome extra’ and early on visited several studios set up by healthcare institutions for artists who move through the world a little differently than many of us and need extra care – because, for example, they are neurodiverse or have experienced homelessness.

Bruin Parry, photo: Studio Jan Hoek

Hoek regularly accompanied Parry: ‘I saw fantastic artists there! At the same time, I saw how those places perpetuate a divide. The chances of someone from that world being asked to participate in an exhibition at the Stedelijk are nil.’ The outsider art world, is a small, parallel world with its own studios, museums, galleries and curators and suffers, in Hoek’s opinion, from the ‘care image’. 'The artists in that world are almost all very cool and have wild ideas, but what you mostly see emerging are farm animals made of clay.’

breaking away from the care vibe

Fashion, more than any other medium, has the power to make things fashionable, thought Hoek and so the plan for Outsiderwear was born. ‘But also just because Bruin and I really wanted to make underpants.’ Iris Ruisch from M-ODE was involved directly in the project for her experience within the fashion world. ‘We wanted to work with someone from the fashion world,’ says Hoek, ‘so that this person would take the experience gained in our project into that world.’

In selecting established designers and labels, Hoek and Ruisch’s approach was to ‘break away from the care vibe’. To do that, they soon came up with streetwear: a label like Patta and designers such as Duran Lantink, Piet Parra and Bas Kosters. ‘The outsiders of the insider world,’ says Hoek. ‘If we had approached just upstanding mainstream designers, that divide would have been magnified yet again. A little craziness on the part of the inside is necessary, because otherwise a kind of mollycoddling relationship would soon develop.’ Hoek, Windhost and Ruisch compiled a catalogue of the work of outsiders and insiders and then the matching process could begin. ‘That went quite naturally,’ says Ruisch, ‘although it’s not at all evident whether it will work between two people. It helped greatly that, partly because of Covid-19, we were able to take the time to let relationships develop.'

The chances of someone from that world being asked to participate in an exhibition at the Stedelijk are nil. – Jan Hoek
BeaOtte and Joran (Theatergroup Lellebelle) both in collaboration with Duran Lantink and Osmel Herman power by Patta, photos: Studio Jan Hoek

shared authorship

Time, Hoek also argues, is a crucial factor in inclusive projects like this. ‘Cordaan is regularly approached for collaborations, but is reluctant to do so. If a project has a short deadline and then suddenly it’s over, that can be traumatizing for outsider artists. Some of them have a different sense of time and quickly bond with the person they are working with.’

In addition, there is always a lurking risk of exploitation: at the end of the collaboration, the established name walks away with all the glory and the money. Within Outsiderwear, everything was made in shared authorship. It is contractually stipulated that after the project ends, the work may be shown only in consultation with and referencing both makers. In addition to healthcare institutions, funds are also cautious: ‘We were turned down by a fund when we hadn’t yet thought through our system of remuneration properly.’ By now, this system has been fully developed and underpinned in consultation with healthcare institutions. ‘Every collaboration that generates money has a “savings jar” with us on account, which the duos can claim again for new projects. For example, Cengiz (ed.: Imamdi) and Wieger sold a lot of band shirts. They now have a few thousand euro to do new things together again.’

Saaber Bachir X Kasbah Kosmic, Bruin Parry X Jan Hoek and Aynouk Tann interviews Cenqiz Imamdi, photos: Afsaneh Ghafarian & Jonna Bruinsma
Fashion Show Melkweg, photos: Afsaneh Ghafarian & Jonna Bruinsma
Outsiderwear Amsterdam-Noord, photos: Studio Jan Hoek

Outsiderlab

Outsiderwear resulted in a fashion show and a four-week festival where the work was on display and for sale at various locations in Amsterdam. One of those locations was Outsiderland in Amsterdam-Noord: the organization and place from which Hoek repeatedly sets up, funds, and guides new collaborations between outsiders and insiders. In his most recent project, Outsiderlab, Hoek is having four of these collaborations researched by Stefanie van Zal, who is connected to the Long-Term Care and Support Research Group at the Hogeschool Amsterdam: What makes a collaboration work? What are the pitfalls? What is the impact for the places you show the work? ‘Art institutions are beginning to understand that you can’t in good conscience organize an exhibition with only men, or only white artists. It would be wonderful if they would realize soon that an inclusive art world does not go hand in hand with excluding outsider artists, either.’

This project was supported in 2020 via the Design Grant Scheme.

Text: Merel Kamp
Image at top: Ayse Somuncu and Bas Kosters, photos: Studio Jan Hoek