Tag Archives: Africa

VIDEO: T-Shirt Travels

The documentary T-Shirt Travels (2001) explores the relationship of the secondhand clothing economy and “Third World Debt in Zambia”. This documentary should not be confused with Pietra Rivoli’s 2009 book The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, which as one of my friends puts it “cares more about free markets than free people.” (h/t Alondra Nelson and Kim Yi Dionne for this video!)

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Filed under FASHION-INDUSTRIAL-STATE COMPLEX, FASHIONING RACE, IN THE CLASSROOM, LABOR AND THE CREATIVE ECONOMY, VINTAGE POLITICS

Things I’ve Learned From Students #34: Nontsikelelo Veleko

One of my former students, Janel B., sent me to this post called “Don’t Sleep on Africa” on the fashionable Livejournal community called black cigarette, and thereby introducing me to, among others, South African photographer Nontsikelelo Veleko and her amazing portraits of Johannesburg stylish street denizens.

The entire post at black cigarette begins with this brief intervention into the problematically differential distribution of “style:”

Stockholm. Paris. London. New York. Helsinki. Milan. Tokyo.

These seem to be to go-to places when it comes to “street-style” and what’s hot in general on most fashion blogs, but I just wanted to share some of the street-style you’ll find on the African continent…. South African street style is rarely sleek and chic – it’s irreverent, vibrant and daring. It mixes patterns and textures, with echoes of mid 70s style (and just a splash of “geek chic”).

(Consider too the fact that Feedshion, which collects “the best street fashion photos from all the greatest street style blogs for your viewing pleasure,” happens to feature only street style blogs from the usual suspects and none from South America or Africa. Of course, street style blogs are never accurate snapshots of this construct called “the street” anyway, but that’s another post.)

The photo-heavy post, featuring also African designers, is a wonderful contrast to those editorials in American and European fashion magazines whose visual vocabularies for “Africa” are unbelievably narrow and alienating (Galliano, I’m looking at you and your “tribal” fetish figure shoes). The continued refusal to see the African other as coeval (that is, contemporaneous) with the so-called modern observer, most obviously manifested in the designation “tribal chic,” betrays the still-haunting presence of colonial aesthetics in Western art and design.

In the photographs found at “Don’t Sleep On Africa,” we see a much more nuanced postcolonial aesthetics reflecting multiple modernities as well as unalterable histories: these include the multiple imperial enterprises of the “scramble for Africa,” but also the circuits of what Paul Gilroy called the “black Atlantic,” through which we might look again at these photographs, their performativity and politics of consumption. In doing so, we might find in some of these images a subtle critique of the West’s cultural realities, through which those familiar fashionable markers of “tribal chic” (zebra stripes, for instance), when they do appear, are rendered insistently, assuredly modern.

Edited to add additional links supplied by Sociological Images and Racialicious, by way of the LJ community Debunking White.

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Filed under IN THE CLASSROOM

A Badass in Tight Pants vs. the Morality Police

This is an amazing story about Lubna al-Hussein, a Sudanese journalist and former UN employee, who was arrested in a restaurant on July 3 along with 18 other women when they failed to pass the random clothing check by the Sudanese Morality Police. “At the time of her arrest, al-Hussein said she was wearing pants that police deemed too tight, a blouse they said was too sheer. She said she was also wearing a hijab — or headscarf.” If found guilty, she will face 40 lashes.

Although al-Hussein’s trial has been delayed until September 7 so that the judge can determine whether or not she has immunity as a former UN employee, al-Hussein is pressing for a public flogging. She’s even sent out 500 invitations! In her words, “I’m not afraid from pain . . . but flog is not pain, flog is an insult, insult to humans, insult to women. . . This happened in Khartoum and under the eye . . of media and all over the world . . . to a girl from Khartoum for only wearing trousers and sitting in a restaurant. I want people (to) imagine that. What can be happening to women in Darfur? This is my message.”

EDITED TO ADD: Here is an additional quote from al-Hussein from The Guardian: “Islam does not say whether a woman can wear trousers or not. The clothes I was wearing when the police caught me – I pray in them. I pray to my God in them. And neither does Islam flog women because of what they wear. If any Muslim in the world says Islamic law or sharia law flogs women for their clothes, let them show me what the Qur’an or Prophet Muhammad said on that issue. There is nothing. It is not about religion, it is about men treating women badly.”

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Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, STYLE POLICE & STYLE GURUS

Textiles in a Time of War, and After


On one of the many episodes on Threadbanger, Corrine and Rob mentioned visiting the exhibition called Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory. A collection of contemporary textiles by textile artists, mostly women, featuring images of war and strife, Weavings of War is (according to the synopsis) a project of bearing witness to death and dispossession, as well as survival and strength. (The site also includes a photo gallery. Here is another of the Afghan war rugs in particular, and a an article titled “Carpet Bombing” about the exhibit.)

This is a semi-roundabout way to mention two sites of particular interest for questions about textual and textile analysis in transnational circuits of consumption and capital. The first is (d)urban(a), the blog of Martha Webber, a doctoral candidate (who also happens to be certified in Power Sewing/Operating Industrial Garment Machinery and holds a degree in Fashion Design) writing about her ethnographic research in Durban, South Africa, with the non-governmental organization (NGO) Create Africa South, a organization that, among other activities (including HIV/AIDS education and prevention), encourages craft and textile production as both a creative exercise and an entreprenuerial practice. In her own words, her research “examines the contemporary craft literacy relationships formed between nongovernmental organizations and citizens of the ‘global South’ over questions of development and participatory democracy. My dissertation focuses on Black South African women from the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal provinces who engage in sewing and embroidery craft projects.”

In a time and place far, far away, I wrote a position paper on handicrafts, NGOs, and globalization for my qualifying exams, so I’m thrilled to be able to catch up on some of the latest scholarship. Martha writes about the Weavings of War exhibition catalog here in order to explain her intellectual and political interests in textile arts:

In November of 2006 while writing a review essay on “material rhetoric,” I included a catalog from the exhibition “Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory” in my consideration of “material” engagements with the public sphere. In that essay I argued that a rhetoric of material insists textiles and clothing possess materialized agency, like Alfred Gell’s notion of a secondary agent in Art and Agency or the notion of an actant in actor-network-theory. In positing a rhetoric of material, we can challenge the Western depth ontology that devalues surface and expand the possibility of what may count as rhetorical engagement, as well as the types of cultures and actors who can produce rhetoric.

Her blog is a fascinating (and funny) account working with one of the many handicraft NGOs in the “global South,” which stock the shelves of such stores as 10,000 Villages in the “global North,” full of tales of technologies gone awry, bureaucratic wrangling with donors, and details from the workshops on creating and producing the Amazwi Abesifazane cloth. Another excerpt from the latter:

Hand embroidery is a time-intensive medium. It allows the producer time to make decisions and to add and subtract items relatively easily (provided the selection of fabric, needle, and thread are compatible and you’re not using a large needle with a delicate fabric, for example, and rending holes in the fabric if you decide to remove any stitching). What has continued to interest me about the embroidery for these particular cloths, is that the images that are slowly and carefully embroidered are meant to represent past histories and living conditions of the producers sewing them. What thoughts does the producer consider, in this case Thandi, when she is embroidering a small, irregular rectangle that is meant to stand in and represent someone she has known that died? How does it feel to embroider personal and representative subject matter, especially if you know it is intended for a larger audience?

Martha has also found some amazing archival materials supporting a connection between colonial authorities and missionaries encouraging “native” craft industries as civilizing projects. Martha’s done some great work at the blog, and I cannot wait to read her dissertation, including footnotes!

The second piece I want to note here is Minoo Moallem’s collaborative multimedia essay at the e-journal Vectors, called “Nation on the Move.” It’s a breathtakingly nuanced work that I can’t begin to describe (which is really enhanced by the digital technologies used to illustrate and interact with her words), so here is an excerpt from her author statement:

In this essay, I focus on the Persian carpet as a borderline object between art, craft, and commodity. I interrogate the politics of demand and desire that derive from the modern notions and imaginaries of home and homeland as well as consumer pleasures arising from the conveniences and commodiousness of a repetitious consumer activity. The Nation-on the-Move involves a multidimensional, multilocational, and polyvocal approach by way of digital technologies. It recognizes the unevenness of time (time of production, advertisement, online auctions, and consumption); the mingling of the old, the new, and the emergent; spatial proximity or distance (here, there, and elsewhere); and the relation of nonvalue to use value and exchange value in a “scopic economy” that subsidizes the flow of representations for the history of material objects by producing audiences/spectators with a scattered and disconnected sense of attention. To challenge the shattering effects of consumerism, the designer and programmer, Erik Loyer has created what could be similar to a panel-design carpet that brings into the same frame of reference different times, spaces, and locations—real, fictional, and virtual—including ethnographic photography, TV auctions, movies, Orientalist painting, advertisement, museums, and art galleries.

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Filed under LINKAGE, THEORY TO THINK WITH

Queer + Fashion

Some weeks ago, my brilliant sister-friend Iraya Robles (formerly of San Francisco’s queercore outfit Sta-Prest) told me about a performance she wanted to put together about Tina Chow, the iconic mixed-race model and socialite who died in 1992 from AIDS-related complications. Iraya wants to bring Chow’s couture collecting and connoisseurship to some of her own concerns about the psychological processes of collecting –picking and choosing, or even sometimes hoarding– and how these might relate to outsider status. I can’t do the project justice (and I should probably talk to her about it to be sure I got it right!), but it did send me on a quest to find some new sources of queer + fashion inspiration.

Now, I can enumerate academic sources at length, but what about the fashion blog-o-sphere?

Luckily, I just stumbled across What’s Her Tights, a newish blog (that somehow manages to post much more often than ours!) dedicated to “Queer Fashion, Radical Politics.” Hers is some serious whip-smartness, with posts about the gendering of our technologies (cell phones, et cetera); disappointing drag king performances; immigrants and the informal dress codes that signal assimilation or its absence (something Minh-ha and I have discussed in terms of the so-called, and somehow understood-as-self-evident, “fresh off the boat” aesthetic); how superstar MIA’s clothing becomes “style” (instead of “trash”) after her fame; and a really pointed set of questions about how charity clothing donation creates and circulate certain sorts of feelings (delight in another’s reuse of an item that might also, and problematically, assume gratitude on the part of those “less fortunate”) that need to be unpacked; and much, much more. I hope she doesn’t mind that I want showcase a bit of her genius here with this excerpt from an entry about the hipster accessory, the cowboy boot:

There is so much I just don’t know about this country-singer-turned-ironic-hipster fashion footwear. The transformations in cowboy boot design—the array of pointed toes, evolution of steel inserts, and varied shaft height—are all masked and narrated (especially if you look up cowboy boots on wikipedia) as practical accommodations for horseback riding and improving riding maneuvers in general. But what pop sources won’t tell you is that these shifts in design also had to do with facilitating the larger project of white supremacy and coercion, in essence making it easier to injure “Indians” through physical combat. This footwear has roots in something so unmistakably violent (not only toward the animals of which they’re made)… a real piece of Americana. And that’s a fact. Or a hoax. There can only be two “choices” right? 

Also, I totally get her little opening post about the Milwaukee mullet (“mom or lesbian, or maybe both?”). Shhhh, I’m hoping that we can be fashion blog friends!

For those of you in the Bay Area, the 2009 National Queer Arts Festival includes an exhibition called Threads, housed at SOMArts from June 7-26 (here’s the information for the opening reception). There doesn’t seem to be much information about the exhibition , but for this brief and somewhat vague blurb from the reception announcement:

Threads is not just about fabric and costume but also how queerness weaves the threads of our physical, social and moral existence together into a multi-dimensional fabric of community and our selves. What are the threads that bind, mend and sometimes unravel this spectacular fabric? How do we fashion, perform, subvert or display queerness in our art and lives?
 

I desperately wish I could be there for Laye(red), a performance by Thisway/Thatway (a.k.a. Stephanie Cooper), which explores the work of fashion in fundraising, and “conscientious” consumption as a human rights instrument, as practiced by the GAP (red) campaign. While focusing (it seems) on the “pop-cultural appropriation of blackness for profit,” I’m hoping this performance also queries the idea of “Africa” circulating throughout such campaigns as a “dark continent,” which is so incredibly critical for how we understand the place of “Africa” (and I put that in scare quotes on purpose) in global discourses of sex and development, disease vectors and health initiatives. I mean, “AIDS in Africa,” both as an epidemiological crisis and as a humanitarian campaign, signifies certain colonial and imperial notions that require careful untangling.

The Gap (PRODUCT) RED campaign is a collaborative effort between celebrities, multilateral organizations, and Gap Inc. Half of the proceeds from signature items will become charitable contributions to “help eliminate AIDS in Africa.” In this cultural moment where Gwyneth Paltrow declares, “I am African,” and Bono advises we, “Shop ’til it stops,” Laye(red) takes on this pop-cultural appropriation of blackness for profit. 

I wonder if there’ll be video of this performance? I feel I could teach this in at least two courses (Politics of Fashion and Transnational Feminist Studies)!

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Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING RACE