Obsidian Arts takes on “sagging”

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Image by Stephan Paley

Obsidian Arts Curator Roderic Southall believes a good art exhibition should help us to explore cultural questions as a community. And sometime those questions are staring us all in the face, but no one is talking about them.

The question that inspired his latest exhibition “Hang Time: The Enduring, Endearing Trend,” is this: Why do we react so strongly to guys who let their jeans sag below their hips? Southall says he’s constantly intrigued by the amount of anger and contempt he hears from people talking about “sagging.”

These youth, like every other generation before them, are simply pressing for a separate range of identity markers other than those used by their parents and elders. And yet the blantant amount of shaming that the reactions carry… the tragedy of the kind of community dialogue that it has generated. If I were asked to boil down the messages that are sent to saggers by those adults who object to it I would suggest the phrase “you low down dirty dog homo boy who lacks any positive sense of who you are . . . listen to me as I tell you how to be”. I think that accurately reflects how little I think the dialogue has been worth. Why we have such a violent community dialogue about clothing in the midst of all of the other social challenges is worthy of study and, in a way, celebration

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There are a few theories as to how exactly sagging came into existence. First, it started in prison because guards take away belts so inmates can’t hang themselves. Second, also based in prison, it’s considered a code that a guy is “available” to other prisoners. Third, it’s simply a fashion trend started by Calvin Klein and ‘Marky Mark’ (i.e. Mark Wahlberg).

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Whatever initiated it, “sagging” has lasted close to 20 years. And Southall thinks that makes it even more interesting:

Clothing style-trends usually move onto and off the fashion stage in short order. Sagging has a staying power that has surpassed many trends that have swept through and, for a period, defined what black people thought about themselves. That fact is pretty significant because it indicates that sagging is a long term response and reflection of its adherents… and the adherents that follow them by almost a generation.

Recent attempts to ban sagging from the streets have sparked even more controversy and debate. Can you be arrested for your fashion? Does the fact that you look like you might have done prison time make you a criminal?

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Obsidian Arts’ exhibition looks at the controversy and animosity surrounding the fashion trend, and excerpts interviews with “saggers” about why they wear their jeans the way they do. Their general response?

A) it’s comfortable

B) I like the way it looks

C) I can show off my collection of silk boxers

The exhibition also features music about the fashion, including Betty Wright’s song “Pull your pants up!”

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“Hang Time: The Enduring, Endearing Trend” is on display through January 30 in the lobby of Pillsbury House in Minneapolis.