Working with a group of thirty children and teenagers from Modaxé, João Ewerton, who was born in Bacuritiba, Maranhão, Brazil, in 1957, and now lives in Salvador, Brazil, developed a project revolving around the idea of "wearable art." This idea emerged from his conceptual understanding of clothing as a wrapping that functions not just to protect the body, but as a mode of expressing one's identity in all of its complexities—social, cultural, racial, religious, sexual, among others.
Ewerton, who works with Projeto Axé as a fashion designer, initiated his project in November 1999. To show that clothing functions as a system of signification, and that the sources of contemporary art lie in everyday life, he collaborated with the children to create a series of twelve outfits made from materials they found at Feira de São Joaquim, Salvador's main market. In African society, the market is not just a place where people go to buy and sell goods, but a place for social exchange, where they go to be part of a community. São Joaquim, a microcosm not only of Salvadoran but of human society, carries on this tradition. Continuously assaulted by a panoply of strange and familiar sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, one can buy fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, and spices, for both cooking and medicinal purposes, as well as for use in Candomblé, in addition to handmade and manufactured goods. Redolent with an atmosphere of intense vitality, São Joaquim is a place of beauty and ugliness, comfort and danger, work and leisure, structure and chaos.
Ewerton and the children made several trips to São Joaquim to collect materials used to hold or wrap a variety of goods, which they used to make the outfits. Working in groups, they developed designs for twelve. The first three used perishable organic materials. For example, one outfit from this group consisted of a bustier made of banana leaves and decorated with a cashew fruit; it was complemented by a skirt also made of banana leaves and trimmed with blossoms. The second six used manufactured objects, such as woven baskets and wooden utensils. Particularly striking examples from this series include an outfit consisting of a bodice and a skirt sewn together from wooden spoons and small plastic bags containing spices and herbs and another outfit featuring a hat, bustier, and skirt made of woven baskets. Finally, the last three used pliable plastic in a variety of forms, including sheets, meshes, and a raffia-like material. A blue garment explores the transformations wrought by the discovery of plastic, a yellow one investigates the hazardous properties of this material, and a black one focuses on plastic and the petrochemicals from which it is produced as an environmental pollutant (the petrochemical industry is an important part of Salvador's economy and a major source of employment for the African Brazilian population).
Ewerton has stated that he learned more than he taught from the project, especially about its social and political dimensions. He remembers in particular discussing one garment created by a group of children. It consisted of a bustier made of plastic toy guns and a skirt in the form of a globe made of uncooked rice, beans, and flour. When one child asked what the bustier had to do with the skirt, another replied that they address the two biggest problems confronting contemporary society: violence and hunger, both of which wrap the body and need to be cast off.
The children presented the entire ensemble for the opening of the exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia. Most of the outfits made of nonperishable materials were also included in the exhibition.