The following is my interview with Willard Morgan the creator of Vestiphobia, a project collaboration between artists of Havana and New York which will premiere at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) in Havana.
Willard Morgan the artist, writer, filmmaker, photographer and creator of the project Vestiphobia spoke with me over the last few days before he headed to Havana in preparation for Vestiphobia. This is not his first trip to Havana and, thus, as long-time Cuba aficionados, we had lots to talk about – but Vestiphobia is our focus here.
Cuba Business Report: Vestiphobia looks fascinating to the viewer. Tell me how the concept was conceived and when was Vestiphobia born? What gave you the first idea to create this work?
Willard Morgan: “As an actor, filmmaker, and a ‘dandy-in-recovery’, it was a dream come true to work with the creative art wear design genius, Uta Bekaia, and avant garde composer/ arranger, John Sully on several experimental fashion festivals such as FAT, Fashion Art Toronto, Brighton Fashion Week, Maastricht’s Fashion Clash, and Williamsburg Fashion Weekend.
We collaborated on several different collections which were determined by concepts we wanted to explore in the world of fashion, both personally and universally. John created scoring for the pieces. We were usually the most innovative and outrageous of collections at these fashion festivals. I turned the ten-to-twenty minute catwalks into theatre and spoken word pieces about love, obsession, fast fashion consumerism and looming dystopia.
These different conceptual fashion pieces were performed together in concert and workshop presentations and I realized we had a concept for a grander concept. After we researched obsessions with clothing and found this intriguing disease, we had our title for the project, Vestiphobia. We began filming music videos of the pieces from the beginning of our creative process which has become an integral part of the production and a concurrently developed film.
I presented a brief introduction of Vestiphobia at Jorge Perugorria’s Taller Gorria in Havana Vieja last April, produced by filmmaker and performance studies scholar, Berta Jottar. We had worked on several projects together in Cuba and New York and Berta has herself written about and produced music documentaries in Latin America and particularly, Cuba.
Grettel Carbo, a Cuban architect and ex-model, who’s interests in New York City and Havana collaborations and sustainability in fashion, saw this as a perfect project for the Fabrica de Arte venue where she had presented work previously and suggested it to producer Inti Herrera there. Grettel joined us as co- producer and they both took on the monumental task of bringing the production back to Havana for it’s Cuban premiere. Fabrica de Arte Cubano, Cuba’s premiere art complex. To conceive and direct our debut in Havana, I brought on Steve Fagin, the director of many international film and art projects including the sensational film, Tropicola, a docudrama shot in Havana.”
Cuba Business Report: What is Vestiphobia to you? Is it one of your phobias? Is it your only phobia? Or are you just challenging us to think about something in our subconsciousness? I would have thought that being caught naked in public would be more fearful for us than having a fear of “vestidos.”
Willard: “Vestiphobia which means ‘fear of clothing,’ was a title I chose since I love clothes but, as with many passions, we often are afraid of what we love and its power over us. The shame of the child, the guilty shopper, the manipulative, fascist leader in uniform. We all share the same need to be loved, admired, creative, free spirited and clothing is one of the most demonstrative ways we express these needs.
The purpose of the piece is to bring everyone on this journey through our collective closets to acknowledge the power clothing has over us. Everyone has something they wear that makes them feel good or safe or attractive. Clothing is how we express ourselves publicly and I want us to be more aware that five dollar T-shirts and twenty dollar jeans are costing people lives due to starvation wages and dangerous working conditions (sweatshop labor).
As for being naked, I think we all want to be loved and admired for who we are and not what we wear or own. To be naked is to be free, the innocence of the child before he or she is made aware of clothing is a wonderful time in our development. I often note how children are dressed by their parents to impress the world instead of giving the child more freedom to choose to be comfortable, though not necessarily naked!”
Cuba Business Report: You are working with Cuban artists, designers and musicians on Vestiphobia. How’s the experience of working with the Cuban artists been for you? Of the entire work, what’s the percentage of American artists to Cuban artists?
Willard: “We are working with an ensemble of amazing Cuban artists including the actors Renecito de la Cruz and Yessica Borroto, the legendary performer Francis del Rio, front man for Interactivo, the popular Cuba jazz fusion band, and dancers from Danza Contemporanea, La Caja and Rakatan, all extraordinarily well trained. I’ve filmed and recorded in Cuba and have always been amazed at their talent and dedication to what they do. We have many collaborators, I’d say we’re working with three times our group or about 30 Cuban artists.”
Cuba Business Report: You’ve been doing some crowdfunding for Vestiphobia? How’s the response been? We’ve done some disaster relief fund raising for the people who suffered from the effects of Hurricane Matthew and it seems problematic to raise donations for Cuba. What’s your experience been like?
Willard: “We had generous sponsorship from OnCuba, Jet Blue, Galeria Taller Gorria and we have several pending sponsorships we are expecting to aid us but any fundraising is difficult. I would say the interest in Cuba has been a plus to our campaign.”
Cuba Business Report: What’s next on your schedule? You mentioned to me that you were considering taking Vestiphobia beyond the borders of Cuba.
Willard: “We have plans to take Vestiphobia to other Latin American venues and back to New York, possibly Miami and Los Angeles. The project is performed in English and Spanish but French is not out of the question!”
Thank you, Willard for talking with me. I’m so excited about opening night at FAC!
If you wish to support this production, please help these dedicated artists raise funds to assist with production costs, visit the Vestiphobia Kickstarter campaign here.
Vestiphobia will premiere February 23 and run until 26th at Fabrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) in Havana.