Agnes De Man
Agnes De Man’s work is best described as creative, witty and concise. Her studies in Paris, the heart of the fashion industry, led to a fertile seventeen-year period of working for boutiques, and her own outlet. During this time she developed her own whimsical, imaginative world, populated by outsized necklaces, and riotously colorful knitwear and plastic clothing – with her signature giant shoulder pads. Many of her creations catered specifically for the plus-size women’s clothing market. This was also the post-punk period of the 1980s, a time of frenzied fashion shoots and campaigns.
Next, Agnes’ fascination with the East led her to Indonesia, where she began working with fabric printed with the designs used on bags for coriander and chicken-feed. She also created a stir in India, when she bought a batch of old, colored fabrics and sat down to hand-sew clothes alongside local tailors .
In 1996, Agnes made an abrupt U-turn in this fast-moving career, and turned instead to her childhood dream of becoming a clown. She set up the non-profit association Relatieclowns, and spent the next ten years working with vulnerable and elderly people, and those suffering from dementia. She found this work immensely rewarding, and it also equipped her with a sense of humor, and a lightness of touch. She says: “I was looking for a more profound form of communication, and a more penetrating sense of social commitment.”
Working with the elderly provided Agnes with an ideal counterweight to the perfectionist world of fashion. The expressions of the elderly are marked by all they have lived through – often simultaneously wounded and radiantly child-like – and Agnes’ large, grotesque, white paper-maché dolls were inspired by her work with these people.
Agnes De Man’s work is personal and authentic. A wide range of emotions and experiences are expressed in her many evocative sculptures and necklaces. However, these creations are not as innocent as they may at first seem – there is a mischievous element to each piece: a mushroom pokes through the roof of a house; a blue jellyfish unfurls its long tentacles, and wooden dolls hold their fingers to their lips. With her comic Barbie installation, Agnes confronts us with a socially-constructed image of the “perfect” female body – with which we have all been familiar since childhood. However, the dolls have been altered, using small clay appendages to show the various types of plastic surgery required to achieve such a body.
Agnes seeks both to amuse and comfort in her work, and with her tenderness and compassion, she manages to reach a soft spot in the viewer.