Vlisco model. Click for source.
“A picture of a pipe isn’t necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn’t necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.
These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they’ve always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.
I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother’s friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.
Vlisco model. Click for source.
Filed under Essays, History
Sculpture of Ji Gong in Ling Yin Temple. Click for source.
Jigong appears in Wang Mengji’s Jigong zhuan (Jigong Drum-Song, c. 1859), Guo Guangrui’s Pingyan Jigong zhuan (Storyteller’s Jigong, 1898), and the thirty-eight sequels to Storyteller’s Jigong which appeared in China (mostly Shanghai) between 1905 and 1926. No information is available on Wang Mengji. Guo Guangrui (?-?) may have been a scholar in Yannan.
There was a real Jigong. Daoji (?-1209 C.E.) was an eccentric Buddhist monk who ate meat and was a regular customer of prostitutes. Daoji did good works along the coastal parts of Zhejiang Province. He became enormously popular with the common people, who called him “Jidian” (“Crazy Ji”), and his fellow monks saw him as a miracle worker. But because Daoji was subversive and disrespectful toward mainstream Buddhism, Daoji was disliked by the Buddhist establishment. After his death he was almost immediately incorporated into popular culture. He became “Jigong,” “Sir Ji,” a figure of folktales, oral performances, and eventually literature. The cult of Jigong spread even to Malaysia, where he was a popular figure for many centuries.
For Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), I’m spending the day with my family (and getting in gear for TempleCon.) But I wanted to leave a little note for today to those who celebrate Lunar New Year’s in any manner.
Most people would recognize that today is Chinese New Year, and that it is the Year of the Metal Rabbit.
For the Vietnamese, however, Feb 2nd was the start of our New Year, the Year of the Metal Cat.
Either one sounds pretty steampunk, though.
Steampunk rabbit ring. Click for link.
Andrew Chase’s cheetah. Click for link.
After the jump, check out some more info about how Lunar New Year is recognized around the world.
Note: This week features Noah Meernaum, with a dual review of ROBOTIKA and its follow-up, ROBOTIKA: FOR A FEW RUBLES MORE.
Wherein the graphic series Robotika is seen to be mounting up and continuing into further outbound territory proclaimed to be steadily aided by an additional scribe (causing much trepidation upon the reviewer).
Robotika: For a Few Rubles More by Alex Sheikman (writer/illustrator), David Moran (writer/script), Joel Chua and Scott Keating (colors). Archaia Press, 2009.
Alex Sheikman’s resplendently rendered comic concoction Robotika was (as serial albums often intentionally are) left largely open-ended regarding its leading characters and had rather boldly proclaimed that its odd cast would be drawn further forth within the sequential sequel subtitled For a Few Rubles More. I reckon most readers will recall that this secondary heading is an exchanged refrain rung from Sergio Leone’s notorious noodle western For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965) aptly referenced by Sheikman as a flipside further molded by Russian relations. 1 This inflected impartment reflects upon Sheikman’s personal experience living in Russia and tenders due currency toward maliciously ‘made men’ or marked outlaws. 2
Note: This week, Noah Meernaum (who previously wrote for Beyond Victoriana about racial representations in Weird West comics) returns with a dual review of ROBOTIKA and its follow-up, ROBOTIKA: FOR A FEW RUBLES MORE. The first review is below, and its companion piece will be posted on Monday.
Steampunk is currently continuing to be abundantly referenced to describe a vast array of fictional works that have presently arisen in the revitalized interest around this peculiar fantastic amalgam. Amid this extensive fictive outgrowth there is an increasing concentration towards advancing beyond any given geographical location, fixed elements, or customary Western outlooks surrounding steampunk. These alternate positions and views, while being openly encouraged as further imaginative formulations enlarging upon the allowable confines of this compound term, are sometimes held as far flung adoptions disproportionately conjoined of disagreeable parts or disparate plots.
One such decisive adaptive outthrust of steampunk is graphically pronounced in the comic series Robotika, that through its principal creator Alex Sheikman’s descriptive reference as being informed of a “samurai steampunk” is sure to directly incite those opposed to such an audacious concoction.1 Certainly this conjunction of Eastern emblems interacting with Western motifs is not novel in its projected mythical fusion. This perpetual exchange has stemmed from the pioneering films of Akira Kurosawa and continued in current re-shoots or re-slashes such as Takashai Mikke’s Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) and Ji-woon Kim’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008). 2 Afro Samurai (Manga or magazine format, 1999-2000) is another preceding animate example of engaging what would appear to be disparate cultural elements portrayed through alternate perspectives. 3
Note: This is the third in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Here are parts 1 and 2. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.
The Ming Dynasty’s fleet of giant ships predates the Columbus expedition across the Atlantic. Photograph of the display in the China Court of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Click for more info.
In 1414 a Chinese fleet heralded by the Muslim Grand Eunuch of the Three Treasures, Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) sailed into the western Indian Ocean for the fourth time since his journey to the East began in 1405. In previously, that is between 1405 and 1414, Zheng He and his ships had reached the ports of Indonesia, south-west India and Ceylon. However, the trip in 1414 was special because the fleet was advancing into more distant regions beyond South Asia and the Arabian Gulf and in the process, covering a larger total of water than any seafaring people had before.
Zheng He is frequently referred to as the Chinese Columbus and today he has become the personification of maritime endeavour for China. I am personally not fond of this comparison between Zheng He and Columbus; Zheng He was much cooler they shouldn’t even be compared. They are not on the same level in terms of their maritime adventures. Really to me calling Zheng He the Chinese Columbus actually dims his shine.
Filed under Essays, History
Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Part 1 is here. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.
“Tao Xian purchasing Mo He.” Ink sketch by Chen Xu.
Kundun Servants as Magical Knight-Errants & Slaves
In my previous post I mentioned that I had read somewhere that two slaves given as gifts to the a Chinese Emperor by an Arab delegation were the first Africans to enter ancient China. This may have been wrong really because dark-skinned people were talked in China as early as the 4th century. They were referred to as kunlun, a term which had many previous meanings but by the 4th century was at attached to the people with dark skin.
Filed under Essays, History
Some cool goggles, worn for a reason and not just on a hat.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (A:TLA) is easily one of the best US-created animated shows in the last ten years, and not just because I consider it a great example of Asian-inspired steampunk (though it helps). In terms of steam-worthiness, A:TLA not only creates what Asian steampunk could look like, but it places its steampunk technology within a cultural and political setting that speaks about technological development’s relationship with empire-building and the ramifications of global warfare.
Pretty complex for a children’s show that aired on Nickelodeon. But its depth of storytelling, detailed world-building, and strong characterization attests to its wild popularity across all age groups.
There are other assessments of the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender (A:TLA)–particularly Jha Goh’s article on “Kyriarchy in Avatar: The Last Airbender – Perpetuating & Challenging Oppression & Imperialism” and the Tor.com roundtable re-watch–so I highly suggest you go to them for a more highly detailed reading of the series as a whole. So instead, I’ll answer the question: Why do I think steampunks should watch Avatar: The Last Airbender? Warning: spoilers for the series after the jump.
Steampunk fashion is seen as modern interpretation of fantastical ideas based on history. This trend of multicultural influence and inspiration seen in steampunk fashion is also reflective in fashion trends today. The rise of Chinese designer Guo Pei is one example of this; she has been well-known in Chinese fashion circles for many years, but her recent collections created buzz throughout the runways of the world, in particular her 1002nd Arabian Night collection.
Her work represents an inspirational blend–not only derived from the famous Arabian tales, but also influences from classical Chinese fairy tales and classics from the West as well. In these designs, delicate blue and white designs reminiscent of Ming vases mingle with rich, plumed imagery of birds and Persian motifs and decadent Rocco and baroque styles. Combined with Pei’s striking geometric vision, her couture collection is a blend of classic fantasy and modern avant-garde.
This weekend, I’m rockin’ it out at New York Comic Con. I’m there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)
For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you’ll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you’re looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.
In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.