Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, contacted me about her senior project: a film about steampunk, steamfunk, and the role of African Diaspora in these subcultures. The final result is her animated short “Steamfunk & Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy” which I’m happy to share here. Also featuring the wonderful Balogun Ojetade speaking about steamfunk!
The inspiration for Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy derived from an event inspiration board that I came across online. The board, which featured an intriguing medley of metals, vintage artifacts, and African jewelry, was entitled “Afro-Steampunk,” and its description read, “If Erykah Badu and Sherlock Holmes had a wedding.” The visual juxtaposition of these unexpected sources of inspiration led me to delve into more research on the concept of Afro-Steampunk to see if this striking aesthetic could be found elsewhere. My search exposed me not only to more fascinating representations of Black and African aesthetics coalescing with the steampunk genre, but also to a unique set of politics and critiques associated with them.
Closing Credits Music produced by Briaan L. Barron
Interrupting this blog for a special bulletin — or, rather, a bit of an intellectual endeavor. I’ve been talking with Dr. Roger Whitson of Washington State University about steampunk — and he is currently working on an MLA Special Session proposal on the subject — and what came up in our discussion was the role of the social media and how it fosters and records the process of cultural change. Steampunk, which has been both upheld as a ideological movement and downplayed as an apolitical fashion trend, is only as politically substantial as people make it to be. But the use of the aethernetz, however, democratizes the power of social opinions and magnifies the power of these conversations. More importantly, however, all of these conversations create a more transparent picture of what cultural politics are actually happening on the ground, and opens up more possibilities of challenging “entrenched institutions”, as Roger explained to me, “…it is a politics that is removed from the exclusive analysis of the academic, the editor, and the expert, and placed into the hands of everyday people using social media.”
How can we gauge the political potential of our imaginations in the steampunk community?
Thus, Roger asked me to submit a brief response — at most 250 words — in reply to his questions: “What role do feminism and queer politics have in steampunk? What role should they have?” in order to assist his article on steampunk fandom and the digital archive.
And of course, being a steampunk, I rebelled, and, instead, unleashed this question to my fellow readers. To show a sampling of what political awareness the community has (and the application of that awareness to steampunk) I posted the above blog to Beyond Victoriana’s tumblr and another one to its Facebook page. After the jump, I do give my response, but it cannot be one made separate from the responses of many, many others.
2013 is the year to get ready for some pseudo-time-travelling, what-if wanderings, and speculative festivities of the dapper variety. I have a list of 39 steampunk and steam-friendly conventions and one-day events from around the world, gathered with help from Kevin Steil, the Airship Ambassador.
Since new steampunk cons spring out of the gearwork every so often, if I had missed yours, please drop a comment (and email me about featuring it for my monthly steampunk events roundup).
All descriptions taken from the convention website or Facebook page.
[Read on Tor.com]
Photo credit by Anna Fischer
Wilhemina Frame posts the second half of our interview at the Steampunk Chronicle
WF: That brings up to me the whole Victorian concept of Orientalism, which was an art concept, a popular fashion concept, and a fascination that was held in the Victorian period especially in England but in Europe in general. Orientalism as I interpret it now, and this is my own personal interpretation, goes back to the concept of “The Other”. It has no foundation in reality. In Steampunk, if people are using that, but not being “travelers”, and they’re not trying to present an accurate viewpoint of a certain culture at that time — but they are referencing the historical aesthetics of Orientalism — how do you feel about that?
DP: (Laughs) Sorry, I’m laughing because you just asked a very long version of “Is this offensive if I do X, Y or Z?”
Part 1 can be read here. Part 2 is now live.
Note from Ay-leen: This guest post for STEAMED! was published yesturday and I thought I’d share it here.
After four years of college, with plenty of knowledge in what a well-known musical has termed a “useless” degree (though, technically, more than in English – I double-majored with Russian), I arrived at the classic Quarter-Life Crisis. I’d been in the Real World, yet was second-guessing myself. Was my career path where I wanted it to be? Was this where I envisioned myself when I left my alma mater? Compared to my peers, after the economy died, I was lucky: working in publishing at a secure job with solid prospects. But something since undergrad came into my life that had reminded me how much I missed academia. Steampunk.
[Read "What Do You Do with an MA in Steampunk?" on STEAMED!]
A quick note before I fly off to Atlanta for Dragon*Con: Wilhelmina Frame and I sat down for a long Skype interview about the role of politics in steampunk fashion and art. Below is a snippet from our interview, but you can read Part 1 of 2 here on the Steampunk Chronicle.
WF: I want to focus specifically on the United States, because I think there are different things going on depending on the locality of the players. How do you think the American Steampunk scene is interpreting Neo-Victorianism in reference to these concepts?
DP: It’s very interesting that you say American Steam because I also think that there are a lot of Steampunk observers who think that Steampunk is exactly the same; that the scene has the same ideas and groups all over the world, which I definitely don’t agree with.
WF: Nor do I.
DP: Exactly. Whenever I write about Steampunk I specifically say, “I’m writing with a North American focus or particularly an American focus.” It’s so easy, especially because of the internet and how quickly information can spread, to make assumptions about a global community just from one person talking from one particular standpoint. What I think is very interesting about American Steampunk first of all is that the Steampunk subculture started off as a subculture in North America and not in the UK. I’m sure there are Victorianists in the UK and that there certainly was a proto-Steampunk scene there that existed contemporary to whenever American Steam started. But I think that particularly in America, it had influenced the formation of a subculture in a dramatically different way than it has in the UK and that perspective is the one that has been popularized in the media.
American culture has a long fascination with Anglophilia so it’s not surprising that we’re all into the Victorians. Also, because American culture has a long-standing fascination, there has always been a British “Other” versus the American identity. Whether it’s the bad guy from Die Hard or The Beatles or those people who called us “Those Damn Yankees!” America has always had this interesting self-reflexive relationship with itself that is connected with the fascination of England and English culture. American Steampunk, on one hand, does have that Anglophilia obsession. With the growth of the Steampunk community, what Steampunk has been doing as a general trend, is turning away from Victorian England, and becoming more focused on what is important in local culture. This is not just for Americans but also for Canadians, Mexicans, Latin Americans and other European countries. Of course, there is still a fascination with Victorian England but people more and more are becoming more interested in their own culture and in what was happening during the nineteenth century for them.
Dragon*Con Preview: Politics and Fashion with Alt. History Track Guest, Ay-Leen the Peacemaker (Pt. 1)
Here be some links and news of note that caught my eye. And, if you have any to share, don’t hesitate to share them on Beyond Victoriana’s Facebook page, or email me.
First of all, a glimpse at the early cover for the upcoming academic anthology Steaming into the Victorian Future, edited by Julie Anne Taddeo, Cynthia Miller, and Ken Dvorak and published by Scarecrow Press. I’ve contributed a piece to this volume, and you’ll also find writings from other well-known steam academics, including Dru Pagliassotti, Mike Perschon, Catherine Siemann, and an introduction by Jeff Vandermeer, all commenting about steampunk as a subgenre and as a subculture.
And I finally gave in and got a tumblr for Beyond Victoriana (Jaymee, you’re welcome). Follow me, drop a message in my Ask Box, or watch me re-blog to my heart’s content. There isn’t much on there yet as I figure out themes and suchlike, but that will soon change.
Oh, and if you are planning to go to San Deigo Comic Con next week, I won’t be there, but my fellow compatriots at Tor.com will be! Plus, they will be giving away newspaper editions of Tor.com that feature a variety of articles, including my essay about Vietnamese identity and steampunk “The Ao Dai and I.”
Enough with the self-promotion — more links after the jump!
Overland Magazine Click to visit their website.
Today I got my contributor’s copy of Overland, Australia’s oldest progressive literary magazine. The editor had asked me to write about the state of politics in the steampunk movement, and I threw in my two bits and thensome. You can read it in their current print issue or on their website online. Here’s a snippet to get those gears turning:
Steampunks tend not to idealise the past, despite being fascinated by this conflicted history. Just as cyberpunk – the sci-fi term that inspired Jeter’s ‘steampunk’ – involved conflict with shady multinational corporations and the authoritative state in a techno-infused future, today’s steampunk community flips the bird at Victorian norms, dismantling history and exposing it as the construct that it is.
“Leftist Constructs: The Radicalism of Steampunk” – Read the whole article here.
Overland’s blog editor Rachel Liebhaber also wanted to ask me some questions about steampunk subculture, why I think it’s gaining popularity, and other tidbits in addition to the article. So I answered them as a website exclusive in “Writing Steampunk.”
Check them both out, and let me know what you think!
Haven’t done one of these in awhile, but here are some pertinent links for sci-fi & steampunk-related events and causes…
First of all, this month in the US is African/African-American History Month. Beyond Victoriana has done features relating to this event in the past (check out our stuff on Black Victoriana in 2010 and African/African-American Heritage series in 2011) and this year I want to spotlight a venture by Alicia McCalla: The State of Black Sci-Fi 2012 blog carnival. She along with several other writers talk about where they see black sci-fi right now and where it is going. There’s a lot of food for thought on all of the contributors sites; so please check them out at the link. Plus, a shout-out to Valjeanne Jeffers’ post on why she loves steampunk and Balogun, the author of the steampunk/alt- hist book Moses: the Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, wrote about why he hearts steam too.
The annual Con or Bust Fundraiser is now open! Started by fans from the feminist convention WisCon to help raise money for people to color to attend SFF conventions, Con or Bust has raised thousands of dollars in support of a more diverse fandom since it started in 2009. You can read more about their history and go ahead and bid on some awesome stuff!
Did you know that Steampunk Magazine #8 has just come out? Well, if you don’t have a copy in your hands right this second, you can buy one or download the issue from their website.
A bit old, but the book Postcolonialism and Science Fiction is coming out, and i09 posted an excerpt from the introduction. I’m intrigued.
Emilie P. Bush, friend of the blog, has a children’s book coming out on Feb 28th: Her Majesty’s Explorer. The illustrations are adorable, and you can see them in the book trailer below.
Did you know that my intellectual comrade-in-arms Jaymee Goh is hosting a monthly series of interviews with people of color in steampunk? Already, she’s interviewed Native steampunk Monique Poirier, Maisarah Abu Samah, editor of the Singaporean steampunk anthology Steampowered, and author Stephanie Lai.
Speaking of interviews, I recently did one with Decimononic about steampunk jewelry. At first, I was honestly puzzled why they’d request me, but Jose and Irene are both jewelers from Spain who are running a series of interviews that explores the various ideas associated with steampunk and art. So I end up talking a lot about the historical formation of subculture, cultural appropriation, and my love of Russian things. Check it out here.
As I mentioned last year, Lunar New Year has a diverse history across many countries in Asia and beyond. I celebrate it as Tết, but wish everyone a happy and prosperous Year of the Dragon!
Image courtesy of kerembeyit on DeviantArt. Click for link.
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!