Burdens of a White Dress
In my ongoing project Burdens of a White Dress, I use self-portraits to explore what it means to leave an identity, a culture, a language and a family behind. As a woman brought up in the Unification Church, commonly remembered as the Moonies cult, the only things that mattered were for me to consent to an arranged marriage and to bear “blessed children.” At twenty, after being forced to marry a stranger, I finally fought my way out.
In this project I wanted to explore themes of religious conviction as it crumbles into an eventual failure of faith and the loss of identity that occurs. I imagine the camera, and therefore the viewer, as the omniscient witness to my inner moments of turmoil. By casting the viewer as witness my aim is to provoke a deeper empathy and wider conversation about what it means to seek out an identity outside of societal constructs.
Serving as my own model I depict the battles between the cult identity I wore to survive and the true self that was struggling against suffocation. The photos depict my progress questioning and challenging the norms with which I was raised. Each image stands as a mile marker in the stages of self-discovery, cognitive dissonance, shame and grief.
To create the work, I have chosen a consistent palette of red, black and white in the costumes, props and set design because of the strong associations these colors conjure: sin and strength for red, purity for white, and darkness for black. The implicit bias and religious symbolism associated with these colors challenges the viewer to question their assumptions and beliefs within my photographic narrative as they witness the journey playing out before them.