Oscar Chavez’s Rhinestoned Corsets Are Protest Fashion at Its Finest

The 25-year-old former artist is blurring the lines between fashion and art via his deliciously garish garments.

Last week, Editor-in-Chief Tori West sent me a picture on Instagram of a frilled shirt with ‘Tax The Rich’ haphazardly scrawled across the front in glitter. “I neeeeeed it,” she exclaimed.  

I further trolled through the Insta account to find a collection of glamorous garments, each a glorious pastel hue delicately adorned with rhinestoned slogans – one read, ‘My body is a temple and it’s going into foreclosure’, the next, ‘If I get shot in the street mail this bloody corset to the White House’.  

While the aesthetic may be wonderfully kitschy, the garments are part of a wider body of work created by former artist Oscar Chavez, exploring the influence of celebrity and the performative nature of slogan clothing. Chavez studied painting and performance art in Chicago but now lives in Brooklyn, carving his own path between the lines of art and fashion.  

We spoke to the 25-year-old about the inspiration behind his Insta-worthy project, the hypocrisy of luxury protest clothing and the freedom of restrictive garments. 

Where did the inspiration for this project come from? 

Production of garments started as part of my performance practice. I was making public performance works that needed costumes that I began to make. This was around the time that Tr*mp became President and I was attending protests in Chicago. This was also around the time that brands like Dior were making $800 shirts with protest language and I was interested in the complete absurdity of luxury protest clothing. I think as a queer person of colour I was taught that my body was inherently political and raised issues in white spaces I had to enter so I thought that using clothing as a performative tool was very fun. I think we’re in a time where everyone has something they want to say about the state of the world and wearing them on your clothes allows you to shout your grievances while you carry on with your life. 

The texts take the form of meme language, but I never want them to come off as too tongue-in-cheek. I think memes have been a great way for people to critique society while simultaneously understanding that we have to exist inside of the oppressive structures around us. I am always finding a funny and optimistic view of daily troubles but I’m not making light of the turbulent and violent world we now live in. I simply face these troubles with glamour because it’s the only way I know how. 

“I think as a queer person of colour I was taught that my body was inherently political.” 

Oscar Chavez

We especially love your use of the corset in your work, as an item that has been historically used to sexualise and to restrain. What is your reasoning behind featuring the corset so heavily in your work? 

The conversation around corsets has been very funny for me because the resurgence seems to be fuelled by awesome feminist designers reclaiming an oppressive garment, but my reasoning for making them is kind of problematic! I love the sexualization and restraint that they give. I have always been interested in power dynamics in my performance practice and have played the person in control and out of control in different situations. Making a garment that I know requires a performative acceptance that my body is being controlled can be fun and allows you to get outside of your body. I’m also working with a cis male body which allows me the privilege to use these signifiers without having people project negative historical issues onto my body. 

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Chaotic gay energy

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How does your queer identity inspire or inform your work? 

My work is very clearly littered with references to classic glamour and camp and it’s so ingrained in everything I do. I think critiques of the status quo are at their most successful when presented in a glamorous, beautiful, or sexy way. Now that hotness is a valued form of capital in our society, I always find myself thinking how to reach a level of beauty and performative hotness in order to have my works be engaging. That’s very queer to me, having to be aware of how you mould your presentation to fit best in spaces. 

What are your future plans for the project? 

Although it might not be glamorous to publish this, I’m really in a grey area right now. I spent my early 20s working as a contemporary artist but have found that the art world is very insular and boring. I’m finding that I don’t want my work to exist in those spaces anymore. When it comes to existing in fashion realms, I don’t have a brand or sell my work in any traditional sense. I’m exploring a world between art and fashion: bespoke pieces that have a performative function in the world and don’t just exist as commerce. I am a strong believer that celebrities are the new oligarchs and have used them as tools in my works like ‘Celebrity Academics’, so I have a fantasy of someone like Kylie Jenner wearing my works. The ways in which the work and message can be catapulted all over the world through the vehicle of celebrity has always been a point of excitement for me. 

At BRICKS we like to share the love – which three creatives within your community currently inspire you and why? 

While in Chicago, I was lucky to find a small community of artist who I trusted and loved their work. Since then we’ve almost all left Chicago and are on to new adventures but I still look to them for guidance and support whenever I’m making anything new. Brittney Leeanne Williams and Jarvis Boyland are two people that make me believe that there are still good painters out there and Cameron Clayborn is a sculptor whose practice has excited me since we met! 

Follow Oscar Chavez on Instagram @oachavez and watch his work Celebrity Academics.