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Cruel (Tribal) Summer

This image from the most recent New York-based Pixie Market email features a thin, presumably white model with a hipster headdress and a "tribal" bathing suit called "The Eagle Has Landed," in a print dubbed "Tigerlily," I'm going to guess named after the British author J.M. Barrie's "Indian princess" from Peter Pan. The graphic patterns that surround her appear to reference ikat dyed or African wax print fabrics, which have their own transnational circuits of circulation and consumption under the shadow of colonialism.

This image from the most recent New York-based Pixie Market email features a thin, presumably white model with a hipster headdress and a "tribal" bathing suit called "The Eagle Has Landed," in a print dubbed "Tigerlily." The graphic patterns that surround her appear to reference ikat dyed or African wax print fabrics, which trace another transnational circuit of production and consumption under the shadow of colonialism. (Having originated in Indonesia, the material was exported to England and the Netherlands, then exported again to West Africa, in the shortest version of the story.)

Calling Native Appropriations and My Culture Is Not a Trend! It’s 2:30 a.m. and as I’m sleepily-anxiously editing a section of one of my chapters, I received this in my inbox. I’m going to come back to this later when I’m more coherent (I probably shouldn’t be editing my manuscript in this condition), but for now, let us again consider how the term “tribal” is both referentially empty (there is no “there,” no truth to be found in this collage and its lumping together of distinct peoples under the “tribal”) and at the same time overflowing with multiple forms of alienation that often forcibly estrange a people from themselves, from history, from life. To be made “tribal” via these forms of alienation is far too often to be “out of time,”* uncivilized, antimodern, backwards, dead or might-as-well-be-dead.

What does it mean to take note of these “minor” events –a presumably white girl in a most certainly kitschy headdress, for instance– that normalize these histories of estrangement, these forms of alienation? It is not simply to refuse contact or cultural and monetary exchange (though sometimes it is important to do so), but instead, to recall that these histories and forms, as well as their effects, are still alive, and still devastating.

* Having looked at the Pixie Market site this morning, only to discover that the description for the bathing suit names the print “Tigerlily,” the notion that “Indians” are understood as “out of time” is particularly resonant. Peter Pan‘s British author J.M. Barrie located his “Indian princess,” Tiger Lily, in Never Never Land, a no-zone of both temporal distance and arguably infantile stasis. (Though I’m working with my vague memory of the Disney animated film here!) As a commenter pointed out, this combination of “tribal” elements would appear unique to “America,” but it is also a “transnational America,” implicating interconnected webs of unequal exchange.

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Filed under FASHIONING RACE, FASHIONING THE HUMAN