The sensory topography of cloth: Soft armour and worn stories

Author: Tracy Kennedy

The sensory topography of cloth: Soft armour and worn stories

Tracy Kennedy
1 July 2021

Kennedy, T. (2021). The sensory topography of cloth: Soft armour and worn stories. (A dissertation in partial fulfilment for the Master of Visual Arts degree at the Dunedin School of Art, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand) [PDF 3.48 MB]


This essay seeks to explain the lived experience of chronic pain through personal examination, a study of the surface manipulation of cloth through textile art making and the poetics of female artists and writers. A consideration of western feminism and worn cloth further explores how the politics of wearing affects the feminine sense of wellbeing and how the sartorial can be a type of armour. In this context ‘feminine’ refers to my own experience of being female. Further discussion of my own serendipitous art practice makes comparisons between the process and the experiential.  

Is it possible to express through art an internal physical pain, a hidden pain, a pain rarely witnessed by others at its most deleterious? Many long-term pain sufferers learn to develop an external mechanism, an armour if you will, to camouflage and protect themselves from outside influences that can exacerbate symptoms and feelings of vulnerability. Through an account of my personal struggle with a chronic illness and a biographical account of histological exploitation with the Henrietta Lacks story (Skloot 2010) this essay contextualizes the ways that textiles can convey the feelings evoked by cellular responses to pain and abstracted cell biology. Evolving is a textile narrative, represented in the physical manifestation of the scarf, the loose forms of worn cloth at once attached and detached from the body, shielding, while celebrating the female form. The textiles represent internal pain from my feminine perspective, as they act as a soft armour, draped, layered, and wrapped in defence of the physical and psychological experience of the wearer. Through a sensory topography of cloth, I draw on words to express and build on the visual materiality of cloth, support the meaning, and confirm a narrative.

Tracy Kennedy's primary supervisor was Bridie Lonie.


This abstract is available under a Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Creative Commons License