Daily Archives: June 7, 2008

Reason for Revival

I was recently invited to give a paper at the University of California, Irvine, for The Transnational/Transoceanic Networks: Histories and Cultures Project, sponsored by Women’s Studies. My panel, called “Fashion, Consumer Cultures and Muslim Diasporas,” also featured Reina Lewis, Artscom Centenary Professor of Fashion Studies at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, and Emma Tarlo, Lecturer in Anthropology at Goldsmiths, University of London and author of Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India (University of Chicago Press 1996), a monograph I teach all the time in my fashion course (my students love it).

It was great fun to present some of the work I’ve been doing over the last year or more on “the biopolitics of beauty,” especially to an audience packed with feminist scholars whose work I totally adore (including one of my former advisors, eep!). Reina presented on some of the initial evidence from her new project on emerging Muslim lifestyle magazines, including Alef (Kuwait), Muslim Girl (US), Azizah, Emel (UK), and Pashion (Egypt), and focused on how the editors and stylists approach their fashion editorials (e.g., one made an editorial decision not to show their models’ heads to exclude neither Muslim women who veil or those who don’t, while another shows both covered and uncovered models) and the challenges they face with magazine production (e.g., getting product in the first place) and reader expectation. Emma also previewed new work, with photographs and interviews with cosmopolitan, college-educated British Muslim young women who choose the hijab, and the ways in which they manage and negotiate their visibly Muslim appearances. (I think her book, Visibly Muslim, is due out soonish.)

We spent all day talking about how “clothing matters” together (Reina and I had a very involved discussion about queer presentation), which inspired me to first, finally post (Minh-ha’s been doing all the work so far), and second, vow to post on a regular basis. So stick around for more, hopefully. (Mimi)

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FILM: Useless/Wu Yong

Thanks to Selvedge, I’ve stumbled across the 2007 documentary Useless/Wu Yong from award-winning Chinese director Jia Zhangke about the experimental work of Chinese fashion designer Ma Ke. The documentary follows the preparation and launch of her collection Useless in Paris, and also serves as a meditation on craft and industrial production under late capitalism. From the synopsis:

A hot and humid day in Canton. Amid the thunderous noise of sewing machines, women work quietly under fluorescent lamps in a garment factory. The clothes they make will soon be shipped to unknown customers. Likewise, the future of each face along the assembly line is blurred.

A wintry day in Paris. Chinese designer Ma Ke prepares her newly established brand “Wu Yong” (Useless) to be launched in a spectacular show. An anti-fashion designer, she abhors assembly lines. The trademark of her majestic line is based on first burying the clothes in dirt to allow nature and time to put the finishing touches on her work.

There’s also a press kit you can download from the official site, which includes interviews with both the director and designer. Here, Zhangke talks about the many layers of his film:

[Ma Ke’s] work went far beyond the image I had of fashion design; to my surprise, I found that her ‘Wu Yong’ collection made me reflect on China’s social realities, not to mention history, memory, consumerism, inter-personal relationships and the rise and fall of industrial production. At the same time, the idea of making her the subject of a film gave me the chance to look at a wide range of social levels as I followed the process from design to manufacture to exhibition in the garment industry.

I hope that we’ll get to see this documentary soon — I can’t seem to find any information about screenings or DVD release.

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