f you were to hold a marriage ceremony to yourself, how would you declare that love and devotion through what you wear?”
This was the question I asked in developing this project. Using style elements from Euro-centric heteronormative weddings as a jumping off point — think suits, veils, bouquets — a visual story of self-love and discovery evolved.
My love of fashion is centered in its role as my armor; not necessarily to hide anything, but to amplify parts of myself that feel most potent on a given day. For this photo series, I knew I wanted to incorporate style and decorative elements from weddings I see while growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia — colorful Batik fabric, jewelry crafted by local metalworkers, and tropical foliage.
In this project, I find a creative partner in David Rue.
I first met him when he invited a dance group of which I’m a part, Au Collective, to perform at an event at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) where he works. Since then, I’ve observed his work both up close and afar. I came to understand his work philosophies, self-care strategies, and most of all, his use of fashion to express his identity. Given the themes of self-confidence and love within this photo project, David seemed a natural choice for a collaborator.
Knowing all his work in the community, I wasn’t sure how to aptly describe him in one word. A dancer. An arts leader. A curator. A renaissance man?
When you gather all the threads of David’s professional life, it’s hard to put all of them in one neat box. When you collect all records of his outfit choices? Same problem.
“In one way or another, my style always acts a portrait of who I am. Messages about my beliefs, my lineage, and my aspirations can be read through my wardrobe,” he said.
In Seattle, David is most known as a dance artist and public programs coordinator for the SAM. He has executed some of the most engaging events you’ll see at a major American museum, all with the spirit of equity and authentic community engagement. Imagine all-ages, free, and QTPOC-centered parties where guests can access the exhibits, witness the city’s best local performers in conversation with the art, and participate in a public runway.
But when you meet David, one thing you will notice from the get-go is his actualized sense of self and creative style.
“[Fashion is part of] a relationship I've been in for a very long time, and one that has helped me learn about who I was, who I am, and who I will be,” David said. “I like to think of my style as a conceptual portrait of who I am and where I come from. It's not important for anyone else to ‘get’ that, I just like the practice of trying.”
When we met for the portrait session one sleepy Sunday morning, David arrived clad in a caramel-colored turtleneck, tailored trousers, honey-colored socks, and a pair of Doc Martens shoes. He proceeded to unpack several items I had asked him to bring based on the concept I had sent him and what I had seen him wear in the past: a boilersuit with a tropical pattern, several colorful co-ord sets, and several jewel-toned blazers. But this set of items only scratch the surface of David’s sartorial agility.
From “anything simple that fits the body well in a color that compliments the tone of the skin” (his self-proclaimed essentials) to a pink Sailor Moon printed button down shirt or chunky pink and black sneakers (“finds that give me some really cute nostalgia tease”), David loves it all.
“I really enjoy creating narratives, counter narratives, fantasies, and fictions with my clothes through cut, color, drape, and design,” he said.
The youngest of five boys, David was born in Liberia but raised in Minnesota. He went on to study at the University of Minnesota, obtaining a Bachelor of Individualized Studies degree that combined English, Journalism, and Dance. In 2015, he arrived in Seattle to get his MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University.
Fast-forward to the present, his role at SAM in conceptualizing and implementing public programs for adults has allowed him to come into contact with many artists. He and his team have brought in artists often excluded from museums — artists of color and queer and trans artists — and provides them and the public opportunities to engage with art in the galleries.
“I'm most proud of how much contemporary dance I've been able to show at SAM, and how those performances have (in some way) been in conversation with the works on view in the galleries,” he said. “It's allowed me to work with some really incredible dancers in a way that most people don't get to all that often.”
David’s relationship to dance runs deep. He was part of the Twin Cities-based company TU Dance and worked with accomplished choreographers like Camille A. Brown and Nora Chipaumire. Most recently in Seattle, David worked with choreographer and celebrated community leader Dani Tirrell — whose work focuses on the queer, gender non-conforming and black experience — on the piece Black Bois. He’s also one half of DANDY, a partnership between David and powerhouse dance artist Randy Ford, and makes works inspired by black dandy fashion and culture to communicate and inspire identity.
When he’s not in the museum or on stage, David is the board vice president for artist fiscal sponsorship organization Shunpike, and has recently curated a series of performances as part of the AIDS Memorial Pathway project and the local multidisciplinary art event, festival:festival.
“I live for professional hybridity,” he said. “Seeing [my parents] raise five boys and start a new life in a completely different country taught me the importance of perseverance, hard work, and being proud of where you come from …it’s important to remain just as humble as you are noble.”
As for what’s next in his career, David is interested in deepening the practice “of using the body to turn abstract ideas into physical experiences that make us think critically about contemporary life,” whether through his own movement and performance or by creating “curatorial frameworks” that allow other dance artists to do so.
When it comes to his future style evolution? Expect more of the same hybridity.
“No book is interesting to read if all the pages are the same, so I like to keep it fresh and try new things,” he said. “I use fashion and style to play, experiment, and have fun. It's deep, but also literally not that deep at all.”
After all the time spent putting together this project, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask David the same question I asked myself in developing this series. The outfits in this series were largely based on my background and influences. But how would David physicalize his self-love through his style? I asked him, if he were to hold a marriage ceremony to himself, how would he declare that love and devotion through his choice of fashion?
“Minimalist opulence told through the lens of a third culture kid.”
It’s deep, but also not that deep at all.