By Lizzy Zarrello

Stef Van Looveren explores sexual identity through their provocative wearable sculptures. 

Handbags are a staple in many of our wardrobes; we adorn our bodies with accessories to empower and express our sense of self. And what is more empowering than a bag with a well-endowed asset? Created by Antwerp-based multidisciplinary artist Stef Van Looveren, DPA bags highlight the importance of body representation, sexuality, and gender expression. Each bag is made from various materials and features three-dimensional sculptures of human genitalia.

Below, Stef Van Looveren opens up about de-gendering fashion, the freedom of sexual identity, and dismantling social constructs.

Lizzy Zarrello: What is the technical process behind creating bags based on ‘real body types’?

Stef Van Looveren: My study and creative process towards the sculptures has been driven by an urge to understand ‘sex,’ ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ and myself. Questioning Western culture and how it uses biological differences to further discriminate against sex or race to uphold the gender binary.

I made molds of a diverse range of body types to depict various kinds of genitalia, representing the spectrum from female sex, to intersex, to the male sex. This played an important role in deconstructing the binary system. Taking these shapes out of context and proposing a new combination–turning various genital shapes into recognizable handbag designs in different colors–was an attempt to question and shift the constructs that have developed around them.

LZ: Why do you think it’s important to be inclusive?

SVL: I believe it’s important to be as inclusive as possible in anything you do. For me, inclusion means being cautious about the work you put out into the world and equally acknowledging and valuing the diverse spectrum of people receiving it. It also means incorporating different ways of seeing, believing, and being into the dialogue, which is a very important aspect of my work as I’d like to move towards a world where we’d learn to celebrate and better understand those differences.

LZ: How do your bags work towards separating sex from gender?

SVL: The nature of the bags supports the vision that ‘sex’ should be seen as an interchangeable, wearable accessory, something that the wearer can play around with, challenging you to rethink the meaning of your own body.

LZ: Your website describes your work as an “attempt to reflect and dismantle the performativity of our human behavior.” What does this mean?

SVL: I’ve always dealt with questions concerning gay shame, freedom of sexual identity, and gender expression related to heteronormativity. These questions led me to explore the performativity and social construct of gender to visualize and dismantle social expectations, roles, and behaviors.

LZ: Do you see your designs as accessories or solely as sculptures?

SVL: I love the creativity and empowerment clothing, makeup, and accessories can convey and how fashion is introducing genderless and inclusive representation. But the part where fashion–along with the beauty industry–tends to overcapitalize, resulting in damaging ideals, unnecessary trends, and the apathetic consumption of identities, is not something I support at all. Going forward, I will keep creating new DPA bags to expand on the endless variations of ‘sex.’ They will mainly continue to come as unique sculptural pieces. I intend to keep them as an extension of my art practice to visualize the remarkable diverse existence of human life.

LZ: Do you think it’s important for fashion to represent sex and gender?

SVL: First and foremost, de-gender fashion.

LZ: What has been the greatest obstacle to overcome when creating your bags?

SVL: Time.

LZ: What do you hope to create in the future with them?

SVL: I will let them lead me to where they need to go.

LZ: What’s the wildest response to your bags been?

SVL: There’s been so many. But I’ll take a moment to highlight one I adored. “Oh, love the cock situation and how it glitches the algorithm to not censor it.”