Tag Archives: Ay-leen the Peacemaker

Beyond French Steampunk: Multiculturalism with Maurice Grunbaum

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Maurice Grunbaum, left, with a fellow steampunk. Photo courtesy of Bernard Rousseau.

Striking. Powerful. Imposing. These are some of the words that come to mind when viewing a costume piece by Maurice Grunbaum. Maurice, an artist based in Paris, is well-known in the French alt and cosplay community for his amazing detailed costume and prop work, and images of his outfits have circulated throughout the steampunk aethernetz. I first noticed him in group shots with other steampunks of color (he’s the masked gentleman on the right).

On his Facebook, you can find detailed cosplays from Bioshock, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and other steampunk-inspired sources. On the rise nationally in France, his art was included in the exhibition “Future Perfect: Retrofuturism/ Steampunk/ Archeomodernism” («Futur Antérieur: Rétrofuturisme/ Steampunk/ Archéomodernisme») at the Agnes B. Galerie in Paris (watch the museum trailer below for a clip of Maurice talking about steampunk).

When I read his interview included in the exhibit’s catalog, I was blown away by his articulate passion for everything steampunk and his need to broaden the definition of steampunk to include influences outside the Victorian and the French «La Belle Époque». So with a little help from a French friend-of-the-blog, I was able to get an interview with Maurice.

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Politics in Steampunk – A Sampling (aka “Why it Matters”)

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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.

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Visiting Academia: Roger Williams University Lecture “Re-Racing Steampunk: Race, Memory & Retrofuturism”

Visiting Roger Williams last Tuesday was an amazing opportunity and a great pleasure to present there. Dr. Jeffrey Meriwether, along with professors Laura D’Amore, Charlotte Carrington, Sargon Donabed, and Debra Mulligan were all immensely welcoming and kind.

That morning, Dr. D’Amore picked me up from the Inn, and she explained that the university has started a new social justice initiative to embrace the historical impact of its founder. That fall, they had their Social Justice Week to initiate conversations across campus. The History department in particular, wanted to contribute to this new venture in innovative ways; hence, the invitation to speak at their campus.

During my visit, I gave presentations to Dr. Carrington’s American History (where they just started a unit on African-Americans during the American War for Independence) and Dr. Donabed’s History of Religion courses (where they are currently studying Western perceptions of indigenous practices versus indigenous perspectives themselves).  Afterward, I held “office hours” in the department lounge for students to come and talk about steampunk, and ended up having a long involved discussions about cosplay, Legend of Korra, and Fullmetal Alchemist. Then came my public lecture at 5PM — and look, I have evidence that it happened!

The video is about 50 minutes long, but the lecture runs until 36:53. Afterward is the Q&A with the audience. Additional pictures from the event can be seen on Tumblr and Facebook. The PowerPoint presentation used in the video can be viewed  here.

That evening, I had dinner with several faculty members and other guests, including a reporter from Venezuela brought in by Dr. Paola Prado from the Journalism department to speak about reporting under Hugo Chavez’s regime. Needless to say, right before my lecture, the news broke about Chavez’s death, and that was one of the many topics we discussed during the meal.

It was a whirlwind trip, but I enjoyed myself so much. Already, I’ve gotten some very positive feedback (and quite a few new followers, pleasantly enough.) Thanks again to everyone at Roger Williams for being fantastic hosts!

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Re-Racing Steampunk: Race, Memory & Retrofuturism Lecture at Roger Williams University

Reracing steampunk

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been invited by Dr. Jeffrey Meriwether to speak at Roger Williams University next week! I’ll be doing two class presentations, and have a keynote public lecture where I’ll be discussing the Beyond Victoriana blog and how steampunk storytelling & performance can be used as a narrative vehicle to empower marginalized peoples.

Hope to see some fellow readers there. ^^

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Dragon*Con Preview: An Interview at the Steampunk Chronicle

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)

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Burning High-Action Brilliance: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Note: While I’m enjoying Wiscon this weekend (con report forthcoming), check out my latest review over at Tor.com. Delayed updates to Con Extravaganza & Asian Identities, Crossing Borders will be posted later this week.

During the Tribeca Film Festival, I managed to catch a showing of Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Watching the preview, this film promised big set pieces, lots of fiery explosions, and awesome martial arts action. A film that has Chinese alternate history and features a detective worthy of Sherlock, a black market underground beneath the Forbidden City, and a plot involving the mechanics of building a 800-foot tall Buddha—it all sounds pretty steampunk-esque. When a post about it went up on Tor.com Steampunk, people scratched their heads about whether it would qualify, or if, yet again, a fad word had been plopped in by marketing.

I think it’s steampunk in the way James Ng’s art is, the way Shweta Narayan’s “Eyes of the Craven Emerald” is, the way that Yakoub Islam plans to write a Muslim steampunk story set in the twelfth century, and the way that Aether Age plays with the concept of highly industrialized ancient civilizations. So for any nay-sayers who are not calling this steampunk, then I suppose these don’t qualify either. But examining how technology can—and has—developed independently from Western influence is an idea that shouldn’t mark something as not being steampunk.

But enough squabbling about labels, because in the end, this is one kick-ass entertaining film in its own right.

Read the rest over at Tor.com.

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Next on the Docket: Book Expo America, Steampunk Bible & WisCon

On the heels of recovering from Steampunk World’s Fair, Lucretia and I will be at Book Expo America, working on promoting Art Donovan’s upcoming art book The Art of Steampunk at Book Expo America this Wednesday.

Check out where we will be at during BEA, the upcoming book signing for The Steampunk Bible & happenings at Wiscon!

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“The Sikh Pioneers of North America”: The Punjabi-Mexican Americans of California

ca. 1909. Sikhs from India at the Calapooia Lumber Company, Crawfordsville, Linn County, Oregon, 1905-1915. (Crawfordsville is about 30 miles north of Eugene, Oregon). (Photo courtesy of Stephen Williamson http://www.efn.org/~opal/indiamen.htm)

In California at the turn of the 20th century, a community grew in southern California with an interesting history: Punjabi-Mexican families of the Imperial Valley. This unique community stemmed from the effects of British colonialism, transnational labor immigration & American economic opportunity (and American anti-Asian discrimination laws). Many multi-generational families in the area today can trace their multicultural and multiethnic histories back over a hundred years, and refer to themselves as “Mexican Hindus”, “Hindu” or “East Indian” today.

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#77 Indian Automaton: Tipu’s Tiger

Among the objects in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, one of the most popular is Tipu’s Tiger, an Indian automaton of a tiger mauling a European soldier.

Tipu’s Tiger. Image copyrighted by the Victoria & Albert Museum. Click for source.

Tipu’s Tiger was created around 1795 for the Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The tiger was the sultan’s emblem and the symbolism here is quite blatant: a sign of the sultan’s power over European forces. The figure was crafted using Indian materials and design, with French mechanics. Inside the tiger is a mechanical organ, cogwheel and worm gear, with 36 brass pipes, leather bellows, button keys. By turning a crankshaft on the left side of the Tiger, air is pumped into the bellows of the Tiger and it emits a wailing shriek from the soldier (and twitching hand) and a mighty roar from the Tiger. The buttons keys on its side allow people to play music on the Tiger.

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Convention Extravaganza: Steampunk Industrial Revolution

Steampunk Industrial Revolution is New Hampshire’s first steampunk convention and proclaimed to “revolutionize the way we steampunk.”

Austin Sirkin opens up our reports with his discovery of a landlocked boat in the middle of the hotel; the musician Eli August gives the low-down on his experiences at the con; Miriam Rocek brings her attendee perspective; Matt Delman, chief editor of Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders reports from behind the panelist table, and modder & tinkerer Geoffrey Smith of Thee-Gartisan Works talks about the con from a vendor’s side of things, including meeting other awesome modders and artists at the con, what’s the name of his favorite gun mod, and the hot little item that everyone was wearing at the convention. Christopher Hayes (aka “The Haze”) provides video coverage, and Geoffrey, Jessica Lilley, and Nate Buchman also feature their photos from the event.

Check this all out after the jump.

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