Saturday, January 22, 2011

between midnight and sunrise

Some people, when they can't sleep, read or drink milk.
I do this.


The scene: way beyond 'late' and into 'early' on a night too fragrant to be wasted with sleep. There's a coolness in the air and the night waltzes past my window in the arms of the midnight sky. I tried to sleep, I did, but no sleep could I summon to me. 
 
Party time.

 The players: me.

 And him. 
Meet Eduardo.


O and guess what came today? O yes. Ker-slice.

And so it ends, at 4.56am, with no answers (where have you disappeared to, unstoppable deep sleep?) and ever-increasing befuddlement.
And now I'm craving cake. 

I wore: a DIYed feather headdress, asos black skirt, handworked macrame knotted singlet from Surry Hills markets and the Young Huntings Guillotine ring.
Eduardo wore: gold glitter glue and a cheeky smile.


10 comments:

  1. http://alagarconniere.blogspot.com/2010/10/cultural-appropriation-update-still.html

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  2. To clarify the point I assume you're making by anonymously leaving this link, the headdress I am wearing is not in any way intended to emulate or indicate any indigenous culture. I made it for a ghoul costume at Halloween and it sits right on top of the head, straight up, and is white and lace, tied at the back with string, no trail of feathers down my nape. It does not look remotely like an Inuit headdress- except for how it appears in these photos, pushed back onto my crown to provide a visual effect. Again, it was not intended to emulate or indicate any indigenous culture. I honestly did not consider that some people might read it as racially offensive and apologise to anyone who did.
    However, I don't agree with a blanket moral stance against appropriating elements of different cultures for art. Yet I also think that white privilege is a complex issue that warrants more time and consideration than perhaps your anonymous post and my brief reply can lend. So thanks for bringing it up, maybe after some more thought there'll be a post we can agree or disagree over.

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  3. Interesting. Prejudice is prejudice. The article(s) display a bounty of that on both sides of the argument.

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  4. I didn't intend my comment to be unduly antagonistic, I apologise. I generally enjoy your blog and think it's a great idea to compliment academic study of the whole social phenomena of fashion blogging.

    But this is an issue that seems to be quite widespread in fashion blogs, and it worries me (Julia's engagement with Gala Darling also on that blog is a pretty good indication of what I mean). I just feel that potential unintentional racism, like offensive/hate language, should really be flagged and discussed when it occurs (intentional or not), or there will be no improvement in public discourse.

    I agree that when it comes to finding artistic inspiration the waters get pretty muddy (and I'd be interested in reading a more detailed exploration of that issue), but even the use of the term 'headdress' as opposed to say, 'ghoul hat' indicates that the aesthetic is borrowed from traditional Native American dress. Particularly when pared with Day of the Dead paraphernalia, this post does seem to display a lack of sensitivity to the cultural complexity of North American indigenous people.

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  5. Thanks for getting back to me and for clarifying the intentionality behind your posting of the link. I do appreciate you sharing your reaction to this post, it's led me to be more reflexive about my actions and whether I was misguided in posting as I did.
    I agree with you that cultural appropriation is widespread on style blogs yet, for better or for worse, drawing inspiration from a multitude of cultures has been practiced in fashion for a really long time- the earliest example that springs to mind at the moment is the Orientalism trend that swept Europe in the late 19th century but I'm sure a fashion historian could catalogue this more thoroughly. It's also prevalent in the decorative arts, in fine art, in architecture, in literature- in almost any creative form I can think of. I think as far as blogs go, what you see is a continuation of a longer tradition of inspiration from what is other and unusual to the artist/poet etc.
    I agree that potential racism should be highlighted and discussed (as we are doing now!) but I disagree with you that what I was doing was racist, even unintentionally so: was me wearing something that you read as Inuit-inflected racist? Is me owning a Day of the Dead skeleton and taking photographs of me holding it racist? And if so, is that because I'm not Latina or Inuit (if we take your reading of the headdress as Native American)? If that's the case, and as a white person I have no place interacting with or appropriating other cultures because I don't share in their origin, where do you draw the line? Is it racist for me to cook and serve recipes from other cultures, or to quote from texts from other cultures in my own writing, or to use writing styles that are indicative of other traditions in my own work? (Honest question)
    I'm not trying to argue that racism isn't pervasive and that it doesn't appear in a multitude of ways but I think we need to clearly define what it is, what makes one appropriation 'racist' and another 'derivative'/'inspired.'
    I completely agree with you that in artistic expression the waters get muddy and it's great to grapple with this- it's an important and necessary discussion.
    Just to clarify, however, the term 'headdress' does not tacitly imply Native American headwear. It is a categorical word for a covering or decoration of the head, customarily used when the described item is not a hat- a crown is a headdress, a turban is a headdress etc. So my use of it does not necessarily indicate that I was drawing on Native American dress for inspiration for that item. If it interests you, what inspired the look was the tall paper crown in this post: http://fashademic.blogspot.com/2010/10/he-will-take-you-if-you-run-he-will.html and dunce caps. I chose to use feathers rather than another textile because they added an other-worldly, removed-from-flesh signification that tied in with the whole spirit theme, which I drew on when I was insomniated (word?), and with the skeleton- a reference to the day when the spirits of the deceased are remembered, spoken to and communed with by their living. When I couldn't sleep, it felt like that, like I was the only living person in the world, that I could be dead and in that was a recklessness, a carnal joy in being alive and alone. So that's where the post was coming from- inspired by but not making claim to an origin or mocking/belittling/othering the meaning of the Day of the Dead.
    Thanks for reading and taking time to raise this- am interested to hear more from you/read any other articles you've got that can illuminate this debate more!

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  6. I can't really agree with you on the 'headdress' point - although it can generally be used as a synonym for hat, it definitely carries the connotation of cultural or religious significance and is most commonly used in that context. I'm not signed in to my OED subscription right now, but if you look at the M-W (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/headdress) the illustration bares that out, as does the the first usage example "The dancers wore ceremonial headdresses". Similarly at Dictionary.com we have "a tribal headdress of feathers" first up.
    Also, I wouldn't use the word Inuit (generally used specifically for peoples from the Arctic regions) interchangeably with Native American (which I admit is a bit of a blanket term, but probably the best to use in the context), particularly as the symbols we're talking about are not very common in Northern parts of the continent.

    But that's not what I think we're disagreeing about - which I think is basically the inspiration vs. appropriation argument.
    What I object to is the (I believe unintentional) way that you seem to associate a certain sort of vague spirituality with emblems of foreign culture, the way that you dressed up in order to add to the "other-worldly, removed-from-flesh signification that tied in with the whole spirit theme" Many Native American people find the association of their culture with the uncanny offensive, understandably I think, because it ignores the actual cultural significance of symbols and practices and positions them as the other.

    I can only speak from my limited experience in this area (and while I found this post offensive, I don't claim Native American heritage), but there are some very good discussions on this topic I can direct you to:

    http://iheartthreadbared.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/linkage-the-feather-in-your-native-cap/
    Probably the most academically inclined discussion.

    http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/
    A really good personal blog on the topic.

    This one I think is particularly interesting:
    http://alagarconniere.blogspot.com/2010/04/critical-fashion-lovers-basic-guide-to.html
    Particularly the part at the bottom:

    "you can claim you like them simply for their aesthetic appearance, but why do you like this particular aesthetic?"

    I suppose why I find this problematic is that while what you have made is not intentionally an approximation of a tribal headdress, it is undoubtably influenced by a trend that is very problematic:

    http://mycultureisnotatrend.tumblr.com/
    http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-hipster-headdress.html

    The question of where the line is between appropriation and inspiration is not something I have the answer to, but I don't think pointing to historical precedent gets us anywhere - many aspects of Orientalism are still pretty concerning.

    But I think some of the questions you bring up are obviously a different case all together: respectfully enjoying other cuisines and literatures? Not really a problem.
    Associating a particular aesthetic with quirky, reckless carnal joy? Not really the same thing. And, sorry, not to spam you - but I really do like the commentary on this post I mentioned in the last comment
    http://alagarconniere.blogspot.com/2010/06/love-letters-and-cultural-appropriation.html
    Especially this bit:
    "Rather than engage with the many reasons that Indigenous peoples might not want to have affluent white women wearing their traditional regalia, Darling speaks to the reasons that her own, very privileged lifestyle would lose some of its lustre if she felt she needed to limit her style choices to things that come solely from her own culture."

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  7. I think a single culture laying claim to all associations with an object is problematic.

    The assumption that 'affluent white women' do not have access to a cultural history of their own is stereotyping in the same way as an assumption that a headdress with feathers is meant to be from an aboriginal American culture.

    And what limits our own personal cultures? I'm a 'white' Australian. But my parents are Swiss, and go back further and you have German, Italian, French in our ancestry. Assuming the stance of aboriginal Americans
    is that the headdress will always retain significance, regardless of the passage of time, can I therefore go back as far as the Teutonic tribes?

    Cultures are constantly absorbing others. Traditions, rites and rituals, clothing, language... I think it is amusing to suggest that we dissect every single cultural tradition existing in the current world and restrict its 'ownership' to a certain subset of people. This suggests that, in the long and varied history of the world no one has ever taken an idea or object from another culture and assigned their own meaning to it. Or that they should never do so in the future, stunting any and all cultural development.

    By extension every person wearing a headscarf should be stopped because of cultural misappropriation. But many cultures developed the use of a headscarf, some even in a religious context. How do we decide who has the best cultural claim? Perhaps we should stop aboriginal Americans wearing headdresses because of their similarity to Aztec, Mayan, and Incan garments? 

    Where does it end!?

    While I can understand the potential offense when a person wears a specific garment with the intent of conveying that entire culture, I cannot understand why the headdress in this post should be claimed by a single culture.

    It works both ways. If one culture can assign a meaning to an object, certainly another culture is free to assign a different meaning to that object? Otherwise you could question what gives anyone the right to assign a meaning to any object at all.

    The initial assumption that the headdress in this post is associated with an aboriginal American headdress also makes me wonder about what sort of existing stereotypes and cultural prejudices one must hold
    in their own mind to see feathers on a band as a signifier of aboriginal American culture; a shorthand for the entire culture, if you will. As a comparison, my first thoughts were of a cockatoo, and Disney's 'The Skeleton Dance'; associations prompted by my own upbringing and environment, I assume.

    I find all the questions raised by this issue most fascinating!


    Apologies for rambling. I'm typing on a phone, as I am currently absent computer, and it makes re-reading problematic. Just to clarify, I'm not attacking anyone personally, here. It's just such an interesting topic! So many shades of grey to explore.

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  8. Oh! While I do see how taking a specifically aboriginal American headdress and wearing it as shorthand for an entire culture is potentially offensive, I do not see that, in this instance, that this headdress immediately signifies an aboriginal American headdress any more than it does Aztec ruler Montezuma's feathered crown 'Kopilli Ketzalli'.

    I consider the former to be cultural misappropriation, and the latter to be cultural appropriation or inspiration. Now, whether the latter is 'right' or 'wrong' is a question that I believe no one can objectively answer.

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  9. Hey Anon just wanted to let you know I'm not ignoring your last post- I ahven't had time to go through the links yet, but I am really keen to (hectic week!) Thanks for your input Melissa- I tend to agree with you- the Aztec visual is a compelling one, I hadn't considered that angle but it certainly coheres with what I felt when I made it. I think the germ of my sentiment is that I appreciate that it could be read as racist but that just because it can, does not make me racist. That you read the headdress as Native American-influenced, which it wasn't, but your perspective as a reader is as valid as the intentionality behind my actions. I feel really chanllenged but it is as constructive as it is unsettling, and I'm glad we're having this thoughtful, if impassioned, interchange. I'll get back to you properly when I've had a moment to read your recommendations x

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  10. Hey Anon.
    Thanks for your patience- I read all of the linked you posted today and they've given me a lot to think about.
    I think some of the claims made by the activists against cultural appropriation are dangerously broad- that the intent of the wearer is immaterial (My Culture is not a Trend): I think, when you are calling someone out on their supposed individual racism, their intent is very important. They may be exhibiting ignorance but racism? That's a hugely offensive way to open a discussion with someone about a complex, contested field, and is not always an accurate reading of the situation.
    I also took issue with A La Garconiere's reading of wearing tribal/ethnic/'native' items as reductive of a culture to a visual image. Does influence make a claim to speak for? This is not so easily answered as a.l.g. intimates. On the one hand, the visual could be read as symbolically stealing the voice of an otherwise silenced culture; on the other hand, it can be read as taking an element of the culture and reinterpreting it, weaving new stories into old. What right people have to do this is another question entirely. The bloggers who took umbrage at the questions of people confronted with this issue for the first time was quite unsettling- if they're not going to meet people where they're at and talk it out, what's the point of opening the discussion at all? I think someone asking if wearing such-and-such item is okay or not is a very valid question, especially if they are stumbling upon this for the first time. Being challenged by the reality that something you didn't think twice about can be very offensive to another group of people is destabilising- you start to wonder what else you're doing wrong. For example, I was given a pair of Native Canadian moccasins by a family member when I lived in Canada. The moccasins were made by First Nations craftspeople and sold at a store inside the Native Canadian Centre of Canada which is owned and operated by members of First Nations communities. Does wearing these shoes make me racist? Does wearing feathers that could be read as a Native-inspired headdress make someone racist? Does liking the aesthetic of an indigenous Mexican religious celebration mean someone has an inherently racist aesthetic? these are not petty questions posed by someone desperate to legitimise a contentious practice but are symptomatic of a larger question: what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to engaging with cultures foreign to your own?
    I also took issue with A La Garconniere's checklist for the hypothetical feather earrings purchase, namely when she asks 'have you asked yourself why you like that aesthetic?' Is she intimating that someone would like something with shades of 'nativity' around it to feed a sadistic pleasure on the oppression of those people? Does it matter why someone likes an aesthetic? And what if their answer is 'I like it because it reminds me of Native American culture?' Those feather earrings do not 'speak' for the culture, and that person is not making a claim to coming from that culture.
    That said, I really appreciated the links. I have already apologised if anyone took offence to the post- as stated, it never occurred to me that it might be read as offensive which, yes, obviously stems from white privilege. Yet I think simply labelling what I posted as 'racist' also precludes a larger and more nuanced debate.
    I don't know where this leaves us. I bristle at kneejerk political correctness but I loathe the idea of causing offence unintentionally. I think I'll leave it here for now.

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