Ultimate Feline Devotion with ‘Fanatik’ by The Balletcats

It’s fair to say that most cat owners are vulnerable to the whims of their feline friends. After a significant hiatus, The Balletcats returns with "Fanatik", a collection that pays homage to this unique two-way street of dedication and ardor. Described as “a portrayal of the profound love shared between humans and their feline companions, a dance of devotion spun both ways,” the collection takes metaphors of devotion taken to the extreme and recontextualizes them in a positive light aimed at these furry little creatures.

The origins of The Balletcats date back to 2009, back during Jordan Marzuki’s university days at Lasalle College of Arts in Singapore. Initially having nothing to do with cats, he would create shirts with his penchant for illustration and a handful of fabric markers to sell. His then girlfriend now wife, Fatriana Zukhra, suggested for him to start mass-producing his designs. “Well, more massively than before, it was still produced in batches of dozens,” Jordan was quick to explain. Nowadays, they handle The Balletcats together. In terms of the creative process, Fatriana handles the photoshoots and styling while Jordan is at the helm of the designs and artwork.

Jordan feels that the theme of "Fanatik" is actually much simpler than previous collections by The Balletcats. “Previously our themes were pretty complicated to explain, too philosophical. 'Fanatik' is about those of us who own these furry creatures which they may have adopted as an allegory, because having cats is a commitment to change your life. You can’t relax on the day to day. You have to clean up poop, you have to give them food at certain times. If they get sick you have to watch over them at all hours. So you become a fanatic, you become dedicated to them” Jordan elaborated. He also noted “an absence of violent elements” in comparison to previous collections keeping in mind the collection was created following the pandemic and the various wars that have begun since.

According to Jordan, the collection makes references to three metaphors of devotion; North Korea, representing a staunch devotion to a governing body, the church, representing a persistent devotion to religious bodies, and shamanism and cults as a manifestation of devotion itself. “Like Midsommar. That kind of stuff is pretty fanatic too with these old rituals,” he explained.

He also noted that these three references are somewhat harmful to society to varying degrees. Politically, North Korea is widely regarded as a nuclear threat. By referring to the church, The Balletcats is not referring to any specific religion in particular but the problem lies in its fundamentalism. “[This] fundamentalism is also really harmful to many marginalized people like the LGBT community for instance or people who don’t believe in their religion. They sort of demonize those people” Jordan elaborated. “If you see on Netflix there’s a cult that have multiple wives and they’re harmful to society,” he continued.

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Jordan then gives each reference a twist, spinning the narrative in a positive cat-centric turn. “The fanaticism I depict is not harmful because they worship cats,” Jordan explained. In the illustrations for “The Deceased Human of Mine” sweatshirt and “The Loss of Our Loved One” t-shirt, funerary processions reminiscent of cult rituals are reimagined with cats and their humans. Where many death obsessed cults and rituals may be harrowing and illogical, The Balletcats instead depicts these processions as a showcase of grief where the roles of the object of devotion and devotee are interchangeable. “It showcases a life cycle where cats that die or owners that die will reunite in heaven. So it’s very positive.”

“For North Korea instead of weapons with cats,” Jordan remarked. Here he is referring to the “The March of Guardian Youth” shirt adorned with the adjusted slogan “고양이 영원하라! 팔 말고 고양이를 들어라” (English: Long live cats! Lift up your cats instead of your arms) styled in hangul fonts reminiscent of the vernacular communist style. While researching for references, Jordan found that Wikipedia has a page dedicated to various North Korean propaganda slogans.

The “Follow the Shepherd” long-sleeve t-shirt and the “Repent Now!” t-shirt both refer to Heaven’s Gate, the infamous American religious cult whose members committed mass suicide in 1997. However, the collection does not limit its references to extreme religious movements. “[The reference is] religiosity itself but I think it’s easier to refer to it as a church because churches tend to be like that. Like they get obsessive with their cult, with their own churches,” Jordan elaborated. For these pieces, the object of worship is cats and their messaging is changed to heeds to simply treat cats better with those who are punished being those who mistreat animals.

“The common thread is actually more enjoyable for me because I really love this kind of thing,” Jordan said. He had had a long fascination with cults and this type of devotion. “The delivery can’t be taken too seriously and I think The Balletcats does that. We want to make it more fun despite the damage they’ve done. It’s fun to swap this badness out with cats. It’s very simple and [the message is] just [to be] nice to cats. Also, using cats as a diplomatic tool, which is the North Korea thing,” Jordan explained.

“[I love] their art direction and their architecture. So we actually took a lot of references from a photoset by a studio in North Korea and a little bit of an Indian touch with the styling,” Jordan elaborated. “The aesthetic itself, I really love it, but I shouldn’t say it because it glorifies poverty and also the death of freedom of speech and nuclear war. But I had watched a documentary, [A State of Mind (2004)] about the daily lives of young girls in North Korea, it’s very beautiful. I don’t just love the aesthetic but I’m also very keen with the historical side since the cease-fire with South Korea,” Jordan explained. You can check out the full "Fanatik" collection on the official The Balletcats website.

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About the Author

Kireina Masri

Kireina Masri has had her nose stuck in a book since she could remember. Majoring in Illustration, she now writes, in both English and Indonesian, of all things visual—pouring her love of the arts into the written word. She aspires to be her neighborhood's quirky cat lady in her later years.