Kelly Dzioba "Polychrome" (detail)

The Modern Jester by Amirtha Arasu

My project The Modern Jester began with humor being the central theme, and I believe that everyone has their own way of discovering and expressing humor. Though it is a common factor among people, humor is perceived differently depending upon factors such as geographical location, culture, level of education, intelligence, context, and gender. 

Amirtha Arasu, Dangler Head, 2021. Knitted and felted, 13 x 10 x 10 inches. Photo by the artist.

Preconceived assumptions of gender norms were analyzed from my research, such as how clowns are mostly men and how a woman being funny is still considered a big deal. Even the comedy industry, like stand-up comedy, is predominantly dominated by men. Do we need documentaries about “women in comedy”?

Looking back at clowns and the history of clowning, they originated from historic characters called King’s Fools (AKA Jesters). I was surprised to know that women were jesters too, and how they played an important role in theatricals in later periods. I analyzed the way they presented themselves and their costumes as they played a major role in their performances. By keeping the importance of the female jesters’ costumes, I went about making my version of a modern jester, where non-binary wearable objects were developed. 

These pieces were developed by taking imprints of body parts and developed using different textile techniques such as knitting, felting, and surface embellishments. The final pieces consisted of two headpieces and three strap-on pieces—stylistically inspired by the jesters from the medieval era.

Dangler Head: A headpiece with knitted thick strips squeezed and stitched together which gives a funky look and on the other side, small multicolored hand-felted balls hang with randomness which brings in the interest of the play.   

Amirtha Arasu, Dangler Head, 2021. Knitted and felted, 13 x 10 x 10 inches. Photo by the artist.

Bobble Head: This piece is made with sheer knit, stretched on a head-like frame irregularly filled with a bobble-like structure stuffed with colorful felt, which peeks out of the bobble. The edges of the head are filled with pointy blue, yellow, and pink triangles that resemble a crown. 

Amirtha Arasu, Bobble Head, 2021. Knitted and felted, 11 x 10 x 10 inches. Photo by the artist.

Appendages: These limb-like structures are by taking imprints of hands using a wire mesh and covered with colorful felted knit mesh and embellished with felted balls, textures, and yarn strings. These structures are attached to straps with velcro which can go around any part of the body. 

Amirtha Arasu, Appendage 1, 2021. Knitted and felted, 12 x 5 x 5 inches. Photo by the artist.

Amirtha Arasu, Appendage 2, 2021. Knitted and felted, 12 x 5 x 5 inches. Photo by the artist.

Cheeky Cushions: These are the depiction of human buttocks with stuffed felt which is attached to a strap that can go around any part of the body.

Amirtha Arasu, Cheeky Cushion, 2021. Felted, 15 x 6 x 3 inches. Photo by the artist.

These objects are unique, versatile, interactive and solely depend on the person using them. As a part of this project, these pieces were worn by different people and experimented with in common places such as streets, grocery stores, trains and subway stations to see how they can inspire humor. These artworks are not solely for viewing but also invite people to wear and play with the objects.

–Amirtha Arasu | @amirthaarassu

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