I was initially surprised by the passionate and at times emotional response I received when discussing my plans. But, far from discouraging me, it only convinced me even more that for all of its challenges, this project was something I had to do.
Having grown up in modern China, in a world without religion, I have long been fascinated by ancient faiths and traditions. I have always felt intrigued by the way they distinguish and unite mankind; giving people a strong sense of personal identity, while at the same time connecting them to the world. I have often perceived the external, tangible elements of religious groups as a sort of code in discovering their identity: the choice of a particular fabric, the colors of a garment, the shape of an accessory. These are statements of fashion; statements of identity.Given this personal inclination, my first trip to Jerusalem was bound to have a profound impact on me. And it was indeed an incredible experience, as an artist and as a person. I felt deeply touched by the overpowering devotion from people of all backgrounds converging on this small piece of land. I was bombarded with visual information, with intriguing details that played like hundreds of riddles I didn’t have the answers to. I was, and still remain, an outsider. But with this project, I attempted to bridge that gap, at least a little bit. I chose to focus in on the mysterious, Jewish orthodox community, through the subjective lens of my camera paired with my personal, esthetic sensibility. By observing this specific group in Jerusalem, I hope to shine a creative and contemporary light on a way of life that is centuries old but ever the moreso commited in preserving its way of dress, or in otherwords, its physical identity. Various designers in the past have borrowed elements from the Jewish orthodox fashion and integrated them into their contemporary designs. My desire was to do the opposite. I wanted to immerse myself within the world of this ancient fashion and then bring to it, subtle elements from my modern perspective, but all the while never altering its core character. For this project, I collaborated with Mateu-s, a fashion designer in Paris, to create unique pieces that respected the traditional codes of Hassidic dress, but with a number of contemporary touches, such as a slimmer cut, high-end fabrics, and lines that allow for greater ease of movement. This project would not have been the same without the contribution of two Israeli models - Stas and Lior, from Tel Aviv’s MC2 model agency. Both immigrated to Israel during their childhood - from Ukraine and Russia, respectively - and received a traditional Jewish education, which still plays an important part in their life, even in the bustling, secular city of Tel Aviv (which many Israelis call “sin city”). Stas’ and Lior’s rich identities fit perfectly with my project. Their genuine emotion expressed while posing in front of the Western Wall brought even greater meaning to the project.