Left: self portrait of Stef, right: mini Pussy Bag

This Belgian artist makes handbags that are strictly NSFW

From their hometown Antwerp, Stef van Looveren is making waves with their gender-defying wearable sculptures.

by Rolien Zonneveld
|
03 February 2020, 3:00pm

Left: self portrait of Stef, right: mini Pussy Bag

Forget the Birkin bag, Chanel’s 2.55 or even Jacquemus’s mini bag: in 2020 everyone will be sporting the iconic Dick and Pussy bags. Not only do they look like wearable sculptures, they technically are sculptures. Designed by Stef van Looveren, a multidisciplinary genderfluid artist from Antwerp, all the designs are modelled on genitalia and are moulded on a diverse range of body types in order to be as inclusive as possible. According to Stef -- who first introduced the designs during an art show in Antwerp but is currently working on expanding its range -- the bags support their vision that ‘sex’ should be seen as an interchangeable, wearable accessory, something that the wearer can play around with.

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Stef grew up in a suburb of Antwerp, Belgium, where they spent most of their youth. They were 14 years old when they decided to come out, and soon after started experimenting with their looks. “Wearing feminine clothes and makeup became an important part of my self exploration,” Stef explains. “I would take the bus into the city wearing high heels, and judging from people’s reactions I began to realise that being free in your gender expression wasn’t necessarily a given.” This changed when they started to attend an artistic high school, where they applied themselves to audio-visual arts: “Photography in particular provided me with the tools to start experimenting with manipulating my gender. I would take self-portraits and with a software program I would make my face look more feminine and my waist smaller -- to make it more artificial and unrealistic looking. It soon became a bit of an obsession, ultimately resulting in me failing my year twice!” Rather than discouraging Stef, however, it prompted them to continue exploring their relation to gender. They enrolled at the St Lucas University of Antwerp, and later did an exchange with Central Saint Martins in London.

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Playing around with their own appearance allowed Stef to start perceiving their body as the main instrument of their work. “By using attributes and doing role-play, I slowly started to debunk restrictions around gender,” they recall. “I realised how similar gender was to wearing a costume and how it was something you perform daily. I started to delve into body politics and queer studies and particularly became interested in Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir and poets like Audre Lorde. Together with LGBT icons such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, their work became the foundation of my practice.”

It was during this period that Stef started designing their own props to support performances. These would ultimately evolve to become artworks in their own right, like the Dick and Pussy bags, or their most recent neon sculpture “EAT ME OUT”, which is currently on show as part of the group exhibition Digestive Disaster, Lucky Star in Brussels’s STEMS Gallery.

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“Antwerp proves itself to be a city where humour is very much integrated in its art scene -- which is very inspiring to me,” Stef says. “It has helped me to tackle serious and political topics in my work. In terms of celebrating gender diversity, there’s still some ground to be gained in this city, especially when you compare it to Amsterdam and London, where it seems to be way more normalised.”

Ultimately, Stef aims to develop a visual language -- whether through sculptures, video installations or photography -- in which identities that are in some way gender non-conforming, gender fluid or genderqueer are no longer being questioned, but are being presented as the norm. “I strongly believe that art can be a useful medium to help acknowledge underrepresented identities on the gender spectrum," they say, "and to ultimately help support them.”

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A selection of DPA bags is currently on show as part of a group exhibition at Base-Alpha Gallery in Antwerp till March 7. A new solo show will open in May.

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stef van looveren