First published: Autumn 2022

The intricate, grandiose, ingenious costumes of outsider art have been created for protection, performance, ceremony, and transition to the afterlife


Most major exhibitions, publications and documentary films devoted to art brut focus on paintings, sculptures and drawings, while textile creations such as clothing are less present. The rarity and fragility of these pieces, which are undoubtedly part of art brut, make them all the more fascinating. These knotted, knitted, embroidered, sewn, braided, woven inventions refer us to our own bodies, putting us in touch with our intimate and profound thoughts. Be it finery in order to gain entry to the hereafter, ceremonial attire or parade outfits, art brut costumes all have a symbolic, or even sacred, dimension. The threads – of whatever material – intertwine into a protective envelope, a prop for fairy tales or some kind of ceremony, or an act of resistance.


Arthur Bispo do Rosário, Manto da Apresentação (recto and verso), n.d., embroidered textile (blanket), cord and metal, photo: Rodrigo Lopes, Museu Bispo do Rosário, Rio de Janeiro


The Brazilian creator Arthur Bispo do Rosário (1911–1989) set about creating a particularly sophisticated piece of finery, in the form of a sumptuous Manto da Apresentação (presentation coat). He intended to be dressed in this piece upon his death. The transition to the Beyond requires an exceptional piece of apparel. This large, cape-like garment – made from a used blanket – boasts an embroidered representation of the urban and industrialised world that Bispo do Rosário felt he had to present to God. His inventory of the earthly world appears on both the front and the back, and features a colourful array of ships and buildings, items of furniture, musical instruments, and games and toys, as well as various signs, numbers and inscriptions. This profusion of threads and cords – all of which have been salvaged, twisted and then intertwined – lend life and pomp to the piece. On the inside of the cape, the designer chose to inscribe the names of the women invited to accompany him for the occasion. Their names – Cesaria de Oliveira, Encycle Froes, Isa Correia, Almerina da Silva, Marina Lopes, and several dozen others – are presented soberly in blue thread. When called before God, Bispo do Rosário would feel this female procession against his skin, in the same way as experienced by the mythological figure Atlas.


Arthur Bispo do Rosário, Manto da Apresentação (recto and verso), n.d., embroidered textile (blanket), cord and metal, photo: Rodrigo Lopes, Museu Bispo do Rosário, Rio de Janeiro


Entry into the Beyond also inspired Jeanne Laporte (1893–1956) to create a ceremonial ensemble. Upon receiving the news of her husband's passing, this woman – who had been in an institution in Bonneval, near Paris, for eight years – felt an irrepressible need to produce a highly powerful collection of finery, intended in her mind to liberate the loving couple and the world. Sewing together salvaged scraps of material, she then inscribed them in wool with delicate, ornamental motifs. With a dress as the ensemble’s main piece, it also extended to a cape, headpiece, bag, train, wall hangings and a carpet – a grandiose collection intended to conquer death and lend access to a supernatural life. 


Giuseppe Versino, Untitled, early 1900s, recycled textile fibres and materials, photo: Piero Fumagalli, Museo d'Antropologia ed Etnografia, University of Turin


Bispo do Rosário and Laporte created finery that they imagined donning at some future time. On the contrary, where a psychiatric hospital is their dwelling place, several other art brut creators have felt the sensual need to wear their singular outfits daily, directly in touch with their skin – as if their first skin had become overly fragile and sensitive to outside aggressions. Agnes Richter (1844–1918) and Giuseppe Versino (1882–1963) created a kind of personal screen for themselves, so as to isolate themselves from the other patients and give themselves a degree of privacy. Their clothes also served as armour to shield their vulnerability and protect them from harm, enabling them to ward off or resist any adverse powers.


Vahan Poladian, Untitled, c. 1966–1982, photo: Arnaud Conne, Collection de l’Art Brut 


Richter took the jacket of the uniform that all the hospital patients had to wear, and radically and ingeniously transformed it. Not only did this former German dressmaker reverse the garment’s front and back but she also swapped its sleeves over. Strips of brown wool cloth were sewn onto the collar, cuffs and shoulders, as well as onto the sides – creating a sharp contrast to the coarse and faded grey linen of the institutional uniform. Also, probably to add a feminine touch to the outfit, clips squeezed the waist in, while pleats were added to the shoulders to make them look bigger





This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #112

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