About Intimate Apparel

merkin (mûr´kĭn), n.

  1. pubic wig, hair-piece for the pubic area.
  2. counterfeit hair for women’s privy parts.
  3. alteration of obsolete malkin, lower-class woman, mop, from Middle English; from Malkin, diminutive of the personal name Matilda.

The Intimate Apparel Exhibit: Reviving an undercover cover-up

Intimate Apparel is an unusual and provocative exhibit of artists’ merkins. It debuted in June 2007 at the Pi Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri and then traveled to the Textile Center in Minneapolis, MN (September 18 - October 24, 2009) and the University Art Gallery at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (January 30 - March 14, 2010). Curator Linda Gass invited artists from around the world to participate and the resulting collection of works is wildly diverse and inspired.Statement paragraph 1 goes here

“What is a merkin?” you might ask. Few speakers of the English language know the meaning of the word. Dictionaries vary on the definition however most agree that it's a pubic wig. The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "an artificial covering of hair for the female pubic region; a pubic wig for women."

The origin of the merkin goes back many centuries to a time when pubic lice were a common problem and women had to shave their pubic area to eradicate the lice and relieve the itching. Someone then invented merkins to replace the shaved hair. Prostitutes were frequent wearers of merkins as well, using them to cover up the marks of syphilis and genital warts so they could appear to be disease-free and therefore still employable. As hygiene improved and drugs were developed, the need for merkins disappeared.

When asked why she wanted to create this exhibit, curator Linda Gass replied “I thought it would be fun and fascinating to use this obscure historical object as a format for making art. It seemed like there were so many possibilities for expression and I wanted to see what this group of talented artists could do. The works they have created have exceeded my expectations.”

The invited artists are innovators in their respective fields – some are inventors of key surface design techniques and others have significantly expanded on traditional techniques. A common characteristic in all of the artists is their willingness to take risks. They have created a collection of visually exciting pieces utilizing weaving, embroidery, crochet, quilting, fusing, felting, silkscreening, monoprinting, marbling, beading, bookmaking, basketry, painting, casting, burning, and mixed media assemblage.

The artists explore a wide range of issues in the artwork for this exhibition. Although the original function of the merkin was to replace something “lost” in an area of the body we often consider very private and vulnerable, the artists have gone far beyond these beginnings. The artworks address sexuality, fertility, shame, self-esteem, danger, power struggles and domination, flirtation and seduction, voyeurism, pleasure, and the stages of our lives. Many of the artists use humor in their work - some directly through use of illustrative graphics, others more subtly through their choice of materials or title.

The artists’ merkins are made from diverse and sometime surprising materials. In addition to fabrics such as velvet, silk, cotton and lace, the artists have used beads, sequins, human hair, X-acto blades, silicone fishing bait, bobby pins, pine cone scales, chrysanthemum stamens, lichen collected from the Black Forest in Germany, seaweed, glass eyes, fish skin, vintage keys, match sticks, mirrors, aluminum, copper wire, rusted metal washers, and plastic and glass fruit. One of the merkins will literally come to life during the exhibit: it is made of moss and seeds and visitors to the gallery will be able to interact with the merkin by misting it with water to help it grow.