Thursday, 23 May 2019

Garb for Earthlings


 I invite readers to play a soundtrack I've selected as you read this. 
This is some of my favourite music.

Shigeru Umebayashi

Tuesday night I watched Joanna Lumley on TV (a British actress born in India) in one of her series about retracing the Silk Road through Asia and the Middle East. In Khyrgyzstan she gyrates with a group of enthusiastic late teens youth in the town square of Bishkek. The group talk to Lumley about their passion for K-pop, a Korean style of pop music. They not only love the music but the attire that is part of the fandom – sweatshirts, baseball caps, high top sneakers, crop tops, full circle miniskirts cinched tight at the waist. The young women wear huge fake eyelashes on their kohl rimmed eyes, sparkly glitter on their faces and have long straightened hair, black at the roots and dyed shocking pink from about half way down. They say how happy they are that their facial features are so similar to ethnic Koreans. I find this all quite fascinating. Here are modern young people in Korea and Khyrgyzstan adopting a style of music that is virtually a parody of western popular music. The traditional music and clothing styles of Khyrgyzstan and Korea have little in common but these young people emanate ebullience for the connection they feel to the K-pop phenomenon. It is both touching and incongruous for the young people of these disparate countries to feel so connected in their enthusiasm for western pop music.


I’m not disputing that there is no such a thing as genuinely offensive cultural appropriation. A week ago I made a scathing comment to an advertiser in my Instagram feed. They were promoting an art course described as having something to do with combining the power of images from ancient cultures with modern day healing art therapy. I hardly stopped to read the psycho babble because I was so arrested by the frankensteinian image of a supposed Pharaoh placing an Egyptian headdress on his own head. The incongruity was the “Pharaoh” had a Maori style moko tattoo on his chin. In Maori culture the chin or upper lip tattooing was reserved for women. Males had different styles or full facial markings. Suspended around this figures neck was another Maori artform, a hei-Tiki pendant.
https://www.mountainjade.co.nz/about-jade/greenstone-meanings-and-designs/hei-tiki/.
Needless to say, after submitting a scathing comment calling out these idiots they deleted me from receiving their gross missives.


Yesterday I gave a link to Makiko Hastings blog, where she published a piece about how she felt about the use of the word kimono by non-Japanese.
This is the link again

I’ve copied and pasted the specific parts that I want to comment on:

I am sick and tired of seeing people mocking our Japanese culture, whilst they are innocently claimed themselves “inspired by”.

There is lots of outrage expressed in this statement but to accuse others of coming only from a place of “mocking” Japanese culture lacks evidence. My personal observation is that the copying more often arises from paying tribute or homage, coming from admiration. I’m puzzled Ms Hastings has so much indignation for people that claim to be “inspired by” Japanese culture, I don’t find this offensive at all. It seems irrational to be enraged about it.

We all get inspired by something, somewhere, someone. I acknowledge how much Westerners are attracted to Japan. For its mystery. We are often “fantasised”.

I think this comment doesn’t reflect the modern world. There may have been an era, up until perhaps WW2 when Japan was “fantasised”.  I think the forces of globalisation, international tourism, media and social media don’t leave much mystery for exotic fantasising anymore. I think the crux of this fear comes from the legacy of the colonial artists known as the “Orientalists” whose contrivance was depicting Asian women with erotic suggestiveness. This problem of the male gaze sexualising women happens everywhere and in all cultures.

Just because you are inspired by Japanese culture or aesthetic, or read some of it, I don’t believe you are entitled to use it in whatever way you want for a mere profit, like naming your products “kimono” or “wabi sabi” that has NOTHING to do with them. Unlike just translating more generic words like ‘flowers’ and ‘stone’ that everybody knows, “kimono” and “wabi sabi”are some of many examples of our cultural words, that have been existing and deeply living only within Japanese people.  

 Appropriation for “mere” profit….as the bard Bob Dylan noted (Nobel Prize winner for literature!) “we all have to serve somebody”. Japanese people make and sell kimonos for profit. Everybody in the world has to provide some sort of goods or services in exchange for “mere” profit. Even Ms Hastings who is an artist trained in the ancient tradition of Japanese ceramics and is a respected repository of high knowledge and training in that field, has to sell her wares for profit. Whether that is somehow a more virtuously earned profit than coming from what she regards as low level, disrespectful kitsch, is a moot point. We are all compelled to serve somebody to make a buck to pay for food, somewhere to live. Easy to dismiss those trying to make a living with this high handed judgement. If their knock offs are so purely dreadful they will soon be out of business.

Oh, but, those words are everywhere now. Everyone uses them, so what’s the problem? You may ask. The problem is the fact that everyone is using it so lightly. Everyone is doing it, so everyone think they can do it too. When people in the West take over the foreign cultural words and make them “culturally acceptable” in their white centred term. It’s based on their power to “make it ok” and they propagate such ideas. And it’s done so lightly and no one questions the problem. It happens without respecting the foreign culture, without clear understanding and without considering the significant impact on those on the receiving end. It is offensive. It can lead to a from of racism that was built on such blindness and fragility. And it is worse when this happens a dominant culture - the power holder - appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures. 
When I see our cultural words are used in the West time and time again, more often than not for their money sake, I get this agonising pain in my spine. That pain can be described as my feeling on the bottom line;
Our cultural words are not your trend. Our culture is not your entertainment. 

It goes to the deepest levels of identity that what you learn from your culture becomes the underpinnings of how you manifest yourself in the world. Apart from the sociological learnings of your place in the family and community there are other special learnings about language, tradition, ritual, belief systems and spirituality that are the cement of national identity. Ms Hastings deep respect and reverence for her cultural traditions resonate throughout her discourse. She refers sorrowfully to the subtle semantics of the Japanese language, the nuance of which is almost impossible to translate to foreigners.

Acts of cultural expropriation have become almost indistinguishable from the fear of personal annihilation. If your culture is pillaged or dismissed by an interloper your identity will feel equally diminished. But what she is up against is like the boy with his finger in the dyke. The inexorable forces of globalisation are a torrent threatening ancient, established cultures with unwelcomed assimilation.

I can’t imagine it would be a realistic option to shrink back into nationalistic enclaves and jealously protect ones cultural treasure, as in – you cannot use that stitch, colour, word, combinations of colour, that spot or line – because that belongs to us. We will fight you to keep possession of it by declaring it an unacceptable cultural appropriation.

Trying to ring fence words or icons with outraged claims of cultural appropriation won’t be a strategy for success to stop outsiders using them. Some people of sensitivity may agree but they will probably always be a minority.

And, don’t forget – when a form stops evolving it will eventually become an artefact. Referring back to my blog about indigenous art yesterday – prior to the 1970s aboriginal art was represented by artefacts such as rock paintings and bark paintings. It was only when indigenous artists adopted modern mediums that they reinvigorated their traditions to become a contemporary living, evolving movement.

To me, being inspired is not enough. Because it does not measure the correctness. The correctness will require the level of respect toward the culture of origin and the level of understanding with all nuance and subtlety that won’t offend people from the origin. You cannot judge those levels by yourself.

To be honest this statement is difficult for me to interpret. My speculation is: in the European historical era of Guilds that controlled trade apprentices went through long technical training to become recognised as masters in trades like fine art, tailoring, goldsmithing, pottery, lacemaking and weaving. An artisan couldn’t practise their craft in the community until completing the training, being certified as proficient by his master and accepted into the guild. Apprentices who weren’t deemed adequate by the master and accepted by the guild wouldn’t be allowed to set up in business. So when Ms Hastings refers to having the “correctness” I think this could be equated to an apprentice who isn’t properly qualified. I think she is suggesting the person who appropriates producing an object (kimono) is like the unqualified artisan setting up in business when they don’t have the proper skills and knowledge.

Ms Hastings last sentence raises more problems related to the integrity of artisanship – “you cannot judge those levels by yourself”. I think this conviction could only come from her Japanese culture where in many arts the tradition of master and apprentice is largely unbroken, unlike in the west. Mid 18thC industrialisation broke down the power, monopoly and tradition of the Guilds. This resulted in the end of the way knowledge and skills were transferred between master artisans and students. The concept of who is qualified to recognise competent craftsmanship gradually collapsed in our societies. So when Ms Hastings refers to not being able to judge those levels yourself she means that competence is properly recognised by experts and not claimed by any individual who fancies themselves adequate. Regrettably I think the old systems that had the authority to endorse artisan competence is so broken in the west that people of modernity don’t much understand it. Just as clothes and shoes were once made by skilled professionals and were expected to last a long time, nowadays cheap and quickly obsolescent products are quite acceptable.  Few westerners are able to discern what are the qualities of an object created with craftsmanlike integrity. Our loss.

Change soundtrack to Carmen McRae

Change will often bring sorrow. Change always conjures the spectre of loss imminent. Dispossession is a death that throttles downwards as high culture is gradually diluted through contact with outsiders. Cultural identity is entwined indistinguishably with the personal. We don’t know anybody properly until we know that most foundational fact – what is your nationality, what is the culture that fostered you. There is no human being that was raised outside of culture, no true Earth person that is without a tribe.


Heres a list of some of my many identities, just the ones that come to mind at the moment – I am white, I am bisexual, I am married, I am an atheist, I am Aspergers, I am a survivor of both incest and child sexual abuse, I was a rape victim, I was an unmarried, single mother, I am a relinquishing birth mother, I am an artist, I am a feminist, I am the owner of two maltese terriers, 5 bantam hens and a rooster, I am legally a citizen of Australia, I love listening to blues, roots, folk and world music, my politics are far left, I am a grandmother, I am medicated to control extreme anxiety….

None of those are listed in any sort of priority. These are a tiny round up of the multiple identities I personally juggle every day, any of which can be called on as the one best for dealing with the particular issues of the day or moment I’m living. Some of these identities are more important than others and some I live in more often than others. Within the physical manifestation I present to the world all these have been created as my imagining of myself, existing within me at all times, like the layers of an onion. Occasionally some identities have been lived through and shed and others have been adopted as my life evolves.

Homo sapiens are hurtling towards the 22ndC. And, huMANs, do we have problems! In the insignificant blink of the planetary moment that our species has come to dominate this planet uncounted of our civilisations have risen and fallen. This is the moment, May 23, 2019, and human beings as a species have arrived at a truly existential crisis. Our actions in the next 50 years will cause not just the collapse of a single civilisation but the devastation of our shared planetary ecosystem. Homo sapiens will perish. Our planet will survive and regenerate along with the other animals and plants. Perhaps the hairless walking ape will also regroup in one way or another and potentially have another go at becoming the dominant species of Earth.

Today I’m feeling pessimistic and having the view we are going to fuck it up. We are already perhaps 30-40 years down a path that could have been averted if the nations of the world could get beyond nationalism, consumerism, racism, patriarchal power, fear of globalisation, political ideologies, etc…My hope that we as Earthlings can be led out of the crisis by politicians is zero, nada. To date they have only made things worse and empowered to continue on the trajectory they have already created it looks like full on Armageddon by the middle of this century. Kiss your ass goodbye, humankind, and become another statistic along with all the other species we have made extinct.

Make globalisation the solution and not the problem. Racism is a major hurdle to overcome in our need to move on to identify as Earthlings. Attachment to cultural heritage should be admirable, but when it’s experienced as something to be possessed by individuals, an identity that is held so tightly that to share it with outsiders is felt as a wound, a loss? What use is that? It causes the threatened identity to shrink back into their racial or nationalistic enclave because they feel under attack. Observe the backlash now, the world is currently in the throes of a resurgence of right wing politics. Nationalism is being promoted, fear of others is rampant as we rush to secure the borders of the territory we have the delusion belongs to us. This lock down appears to be happening both physically and metaphorically.



As a young woman of 20 I sought out and joined a Buddhist community in New Zealand. Though at 60 I now identify as an atheist I still comfortably incorporate a great deal of Buddhist philosophy into my world view. When I see people resisting change or I feel panic within myself that something familiar is becoming different I reflect on the Buddhas Four Noble Truths. The only constant in the world is change. If individuals become attached to things as they are or fall into the delusion that they have the power to stop change, the result of this will lead to suffering.

Another of the principles taught by the Buddha is to try to become aware of the things that cause you to feel fearful. What do you react to that makes you want to contract, withdraw, become smaller, instigate boundaries, implode, go inwards? These are things that should be contemplated. He suggests that holding them close will cause suffering.  He counselled that whatever brings a feeling of expansion and outward growth are the principles we would benefit to bring into our lives.



If you believe you own the word kimono and try to stop other people from using it I predict you will fail. To many Japanese the traditional garment kimono is something precious to them. At present they are experiencing the word being expropriated from them by interlopers from outside their culture. If you are becoming depressed and angry over this cultural appropriation it may be because this is the experience of powerlessness at losing something you are attached to. Human beings create suffering for themselves in this way, according to Buddhist thinking.

Wowsa, so here is humanity in a barrel going over Niagara Falls and some peeps are fretting over the colour of their lifejackets?

Change soundtrack to Passenger


If you like my taste in music and want to hear more this is a link to my MUSIC board on my Pinterest page


Roads
Oh, can't anybody see
We've got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong
Storm, in the morning light
I feel
No more can I say
Frozen to myself
I got nobody on my side
And surely that ain't right
And surely that ain't right
Oh, can't anybody see
We've got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong
How can it feel, this wrong
This moment
How can it feel, this wrong
Oh, can't anybody see
We've got a war to fight
Never found our way
Regardless of what they say
How can it feel, this wrong
From this moment
How can it feel, this wrong



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