Explore with your body
Life in a pocket

Life in a pocket

Assignment: What about pockets as a safe space?

I participated in a project run by two classmates of mine. Read more about it here https://apria.artez.nl/what-about-pockets-as-a-safe-space/

I received this email….

Dear Lianca,

I’m writing this email to invite you to participate in ‘What about Pockets as a Safe Space?’, an on-going project questioning safety and intimacy in living environments for international students.

Every time we move from place to place we enter a new empty shelter, a new empty room. When we arrive, we open our luggage and our boxes and we positionate our items through the room in order to transform the empty shelter into our private space. Spreading the items through the space of the room we inhabit the empty shelter and we personalize our privacy. In this project, we translated the empty room into an empty garment with a lining full of pockets. In this translation from the room to the garment, we imagine the pockets as the drawers and shelves which will be filled in with your personal objects. However, we will explain further. In the impermanent scenario we live in, nowadays, finding your safe space might be very urgent but also delicate and problematic.

“For me, safe space is connected to memories. I keep collecting objects that remind me of a special moment, a particular person, or an interesting place. At the same time, safe space is tools, those tools I need to proceed with my research. I would never leave for a journey without some books, a pen, and a notebook. I would also include some chocolate and probably my phone and my laptop. And there should be much more to say.” Alessandra

Through this project, the empty space of the garment’s pockets might become your shelter. In this way, we investigate how objects shape the feeling of safety in living spaces. The concept of ‘safe space’ emerged in the late twentieth century in the United States with the rise of the new feminist, queer and anti-racism social movements. Since then, it has been used in many different contexts. The term refers to places created for individuals who feel marginalised to come together to communicate their experiences of that marginalisation. It brings with it the question: safe space for whom? Our research intends to investigate the concept without binary interpretation. We aim to reframe the definition of safe space as a continuous discourse, rather than as a fixed answer. If you want to explore your idea of safe space and share it with us, follow the instructions and fill in the pockets of the shelter.

Practical information: 

– you will recieve the garments and instructions tomorrow; 
– you can use the garment from: Friday 10th September to: Friday 17th September.
– During this period you should follow the instructions (which will be provided with the garment) and finish the requested tasks.

Please, give all the material back by the ending date.

Please, use this email address as a reference to send back the images and documentation via we-transfer.

P.S.: We are still working towards a better format for this participatory project. If you have any questions or feedback please collect your questions and ideas and send them to us at the end of the week. It will be very helpful to improve. 

Thank you! : )

Alessandra & Lu

Call to participate in “What about pockets as a safe space?” <pocketsproject.info@gmail.com>

My life in pockets

The last time I felt really safe was as a university student almost 20 years ago. Life has been tumultuous since then, but it is impossible to tell if the feeling of being lost came with the advent of adulthood or with the trails of moving abroad. I set out alone, by myself, on what I anticipated to be a short soiree, but the allure of endless adventures seduced me into a life on the road. I wish I could liken my situation to that of a hermit crab, a manageable stash fitting neatly on my back, but it’s hard to shake the shackles of an indulgent life. Indulgent also means impulsive. From a young age, I was raised to be obsessed with utility more than the material. Things had a function, that function was sometimes prestige, but the items had little meaning beyond their ephemeral purpose. What I carry with me through my travels is too much and too superficial. I’ll schlep worthless knickknacks with me if they haven’t satiated my needs but then discard priceless heirlooms when they don’t fit my current ‘identity’ anymore. My mom, from who I learned to shop obsessively, would as we walked into a clothing sale, proclaim: “It’s just things”. Simultaneously promoting the contradictory ideologies of ownership but also disposability. My mom has always been a very dichotomous person.

The irony is that I am a product of my upbringing. I write all this from a small room basically suffocating under piles of things, mostly clothes. I know intellectually that I don’t have an emotional attachment to most (any) of it, but I will descent into a deep depression if I lost even one piece. I find this fragile relationship comical. It’s staunchly capitalistic, being more obsessed with what things represent than what they actually are, but also resolutely me.  Who will I be if I lost my wardrobe? The answer of course, is still me, just probably a less well- dressed version ;). Traveling as much as I do though, things are often lost or given away. A lot of items with intrinsic value has been flippantly discarded in the mood of the moment, and sometimes their absence makes me question my identity.

The only thing that truly has and will always be there is my body. It has carried me through many of life’s adventures. So in a way, my body is my pocket. It’s a place where I collect memories and experiences. And all the experiences I have had up to now, has shaped my into who I am today. That is more valuable than any object I will ever own.

New Home

I live in a 14sqm room and share a shower with 5 other people half my age.  Before throwing insults like #privalged my way, can I just say that I willingly opted into this by what I now feel were false promises. The situation is of course more nuanced than that, but my expectations were not properly managed by the entity that lured me here.  

In my home country I lacked a feeling of stability, in my previous residence 14 000km away I longed for purpose. But here…here I have no independence, a quality I worked long and hard to cultivated and that is literally the hallmark of my personality. I don’t remember ever feeling this unsure about the future. My quest for improvement has been muddied by my battle with institutionalized discrimination. 

Finding work has been impossible but upgrading my accommodation has been even harder. 

A massive monetary investment has bought me the label of second-class citizen, o yea and, of course, an eventual advanced degree. But money doesn’t matter here only lineage does. and unfortunately I am not the right pedigree.

The only thing that gives me an ounce of certainty is remembering where I came from and where I have been.  My legacy is my solitude. Also, note to self – remember to stay focused on why I moved here. The items below remind me of people and qualities I already embody; or admire and strive to embody. This coat is really handy for carrying ‘myself’ with me.

Filling my pockets


My grandmother (on my mother’s side) was a kind homely woman. I knew upon visiting her that there would be milk tart and koeksisters (both south African desserts) in her fridge and peppermints in her purse. She always allowed me to riffle freely to find those mints. Those fond memories are the cause of my sugar addiction. She and my grandfather, that passed long before I was born, were quite prolific. My mom had 5 brothers and sisters and 2 adopted siblings. She was a latecomer, being born 10 years after her closest sibling. Her oldest sister was 21 years older than her. I grew up in a massive family with my cousins being like aunts and uncles and my aunts and uncles being more like grandparents. Even today, I have a large support network of family members across the world. These broches belonged to my grandmother. I have turned them into earrings (kind off).


My grandmother’s (on my dad’s side) motto in life was WWW – whiskey, wine and water. She liked eating fancy meals and socializing. She owned exquisite clothing and jewelry, she was an army officer’s wife after all, much of which I inherited. Their house was modest but filled with silverware and furniture in the imperial style. She was cultured and liked the finer things in life. She also knew how to have fun and always scolded my parents for setting my curfew so early. My grandma and I were two peas in a pod. 


My little brother was a dungeon master at age 9 and hosted LAN parties at our house since he was 11. A slew of smelly boys would decent on our house over weekends to play games. Much as I complained I only realized later that my brother had created a haven for a bunch of misfits he had collected. He always made sure they were taken care of, that they had shelter and food and that they could rely on him (even to his own detriment). To this day he is deeply loyal to his network. My brother introduced me to technology and despite my fervent protests, it stuck. Pretty serendipitous seeing as the internet now rules our lives.


My brother and I, only 2 years apart, have always had a sibling rivalry. To show how ‘unique’ we were from each other we both embraced alternative lifestyles. I dabbled with everything hardcore and he ventured down the psychedelic path. In contrast to my fickleness, my brother has resolutely kept true to his hippy roots. But despite his uncouth beard and tie-died shirts he is studying his MBA and makes a salary as fat as the joints he roles. His stable demeanour is a source of calm in my world. He taught me to be tolerant of bullshit. These are coasters from his wedding. I glued them all together to make one giant coaster (no symbolism)!


When I list a next of kin, it is always my youngest sister. I know she will also pick up the phone and be able to solve issues with a level head. I always have a room at her house and she is the only one I trust with a credit card linked to my account. I often ask her if we could swap identities. There is a 9-year gap between us but she definitely has a more adult life than me. She taught me how to approach with caution. Especially other people. She got me this water bottle one Christmas. I carry it with me everywhere.


I often get called a loud extrovert. That I am but you should meet my mother. Our house kind of had two towers. My parents lived in one and my brothers and I in the other. In the mornings my mom would shout from her tower through the window for us to wake up. Her bellowing voice reaching far and wide. She was also deeply compassionate and had time for everyone. We were a family of 6 but normally had between 8-11 people living in our house. There was ample space to live comfortably, but we knew how to share. My mom knit me this scarf. It is warm and supportive like she is.


My dad passed away at a young age, so I always carry pictures of him with me. My dad loved adventure and the outdoors. As a teenager, our house flooded. All our furniture was destroyed. Luckily the insurance gave us a massive payout. Instead of replacing the furniture, my dad invested in a 4×4 and all the camping gadgets of the day. We sat watching TV on folding chairs for a year and a half but went camping once a month. No one complained. My dad was a practical man and imparted that quality (somewhat) onto me. I normally carry a utility knife with me, just in case.

Wild side

My grandfather (on my dad’s side) was a colonel in the South African air force and secret services. He did a lot of covert shit he was never allowed to share with anyone. My grandfather was a dignified man with a calm demeanour, but you could see the fire in his eyes. His favourite story was how a lion once took a bite out of the rubber fin on the boot of his car. He displayed that fin to every and all new visitors to his house in addition to playing a video a spectator of the event filmed.  My grandfather gave me my love for travel, nature and a taste for anarchy. You can’t advance that far up the chain of command without taking some risks. I don’t have the fin of his car but I tried taking a bite out of this magazine. The cover reminded me of him. Kind of like santa in sheeps clothing.


I almost lost it but luckily discovered it again. Living in Japan reconnected me with my spiritual side. Religion, even though not practised consciously, permeates every fibre of society. The tenants of Shinto in Buddhism is palpable in everything the Japanese do. This little rooster is my Asian zodiac character. I was born in the year of the fire rooster. Multiplied with my western zodiac, Sagittarius, also a fire sign, my life has been an explosion of fun escapades and social experiments. Maybe I don’t need the transcendent for more transgression.


After finishing university, I wanted to travel. I had my eyes set on going to the United Arab Emirates but then unintentionally landed a teaching job in China. I lived in Chengdu the city of spicy food and pandas and it was a party from morning to night. Some under the table handshakes secured me a visa and work was fairly easy as I was just a token foreign face and wasn’t expected to do much except show up for work on time. One evening in a bar I struck up a conversation with a well-dressed local lady. Her English was great as she had studied in the US. We were instant best buds. Turns out she’s fucking rich. The rest of my days were opulent AF. She gave me this Tiffany necklace. It doesn’t resonate with me on any level, but I kept it as a token of my time with her.


As a child, I lived in London. I was a toddler, so my life basically consisted of breaking blades of frozen grass off tuffs on our lawn and feeding the geese at the pond (also running away from aggressive geese). I watched a lot of “The Flintstones” with my dad and spend hours in an old crate in our living room my parents had converted into a playpen. Still, the eclectic fashion and the counterculture of the 80s are stuck in my psyche. 


Nothing beats the nature and weather of South Africa. My grandparents constantly took us on safari resorts all over the country. My parents took us camping at least once a month, but we often spent weeks outside living in tents. This lifestyle (thanks parentals) made my siblings and I resilient, easy-going, and deeply attached to the outdoors. We have a deep affinity with the land and a deep love and respect for all the creatures on this earth. But sometimes we still eat them. These earrings were made by a friend. It’s a springbok and actually the symbol of our national rugby team. I’m just meh about rugby but I take the antelope earrings with me wherever I go.


It’s been unnecessarily hard moving to the Netherlands. Being a student is great but all the bureaucracy sucks! People say I’m brave for moving here by myself, for me it was necessary. Two many decades were spent listlessly and aimlessly plodding along. Climbing the ladders and ticking the boxes. I’m finally pursuing an existence with meaning and purpose. It’s great reconnecting with fashion and my creativity again and finding ways to use these passions for activism. This shirt is both fashion and art – haha.

Ready to go, or maybe I’ll stay