When I first laid eyes upon the creations by Una Burke, I was mesmerised. The combination of intricate leather-work alongside deep-rooted conceptual meanings, imposed a feeling of awkwardness. They look harsh, unforgiving, and quite frankly painful. But the composition of detail, constructed using traditional leather-work techniques, adds somewhat, a level of delicacy, an intriguing beauty that draws you in, and leaves you hypnotised.
There is no denying that Burke's work are respectively pieces of art, designed to use the human form as it's canvas, and when the two interlock they create what can only be described as moving masterpieces, and just like art, she describes her work "to be interpreted independently by each individual".
Irish born Una Burke completed her BA in Fashion Design at Limerick School of Art and Design in 2003. She then went on to work with the prestigious milliner Philip Treacy and the all-time classic, English heritage brand, Burberry. After which, she returned to gain her Master's in Fashion Artefacts at London College of Fashion in 2007. It was during this exciting period that Una Burke developed her signature style, and designed her award winning accessories range, Re.Treat.
Burke composes stylistic 'artefacts' that consistently questions the concepts of restriction as protection. Through distressing subject matters such as; trauma, death, and deformity, she often challenges the irony that something like, prosthetics limbs, for example, can impose such negativity and inhibition from society, even though their functional form is a positive impact for mobility. In a way, she then flips these ideas and channels them into constricting accessories, that can virtually immobilise the wearer, leaving her handicapped, yet, amazingly at the same time, transforms and empowers her into a beautifully sculpted figure.
This concept was explored in great detail through, not her latest collection, but my personal favourite, Meta.Morph. Sadistic upon first appearance, this stark, armour wear, confines the body in corseted suspender belts attached to metal studded leather leg braces, and masks that preserves “ the identity of the wearer yet simultaneously inhibiting the ability to speak and be heard.”. This idea developed through research into Artist Nicola Lane who explored disabilities and the impact it has for “fragmentation and loss and the effect on self-image”.
Influences from this collection are present in the remarkable 'Fragmented Figure' that constricts the entire body in a casing of rivet locked black leather skin, designed specifically for SHOWstudio's new exhibition SHOWcabinet:Prosthetics.
Surely it comes as no surprise, with her explorations into the restrictive qualities of clothing to protect, heal, contort and advance the female body, that Una Burke's wearable art becomes the main focal point for this installation. SHOWcabinet: Prosthetics is about more than just the standard medical interpretation of the word for replacing limbs. Instead it delves into the Ancient Greek terminology meaning "to add, to advance, or to give power to", ideals which are embedded deep within pieces such as the 'Head Brace' and 'Hooded Bodysuit' from Burke's first, graduate collection Re.treat.
Her portrayal of women in this manner, continues to question the preconceived notions of beauty and femininity. In my eyes, I see a strong woman, embraced in armour. She denotes power, but hidden deep beneath is the vulnerability that requires the armour to disguise it. She is the ultimate womanly masquerade.