Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Screen, paper and face

We are sitting in the window of a chain café on the edge of the Strand. We are drinking small cups of coffee with Italian names which have just been prepared using coffee beans grown somewhere in South America. We have been looking at photographs taken fifty years ago in West Africa of people running, dancing, jumping, playing. A painter told me that good paintings lift you, they give you something, you walk away feeling like you're richer. She's not keen on photography, yet I feel that this notion of being rich in spirit even when your pockets are empty can be applied to all works of human creativity. Certainly, I feel wonderful after looking at all those photographs of anonymous people in a far-away place and a far-away time. They are here and I am there.

Back to the present, and suddenly we hear a burst of shouting and calling. A group of people are passing by waving placards, and I remember the notice that I'd seen tied to a traffic light at a pedestrian crossing advertising a march to show support immigrant workers. I'd also seen it advertised online, and suddenly here it is in front of me. I am at leisure, sitting here in the middle of the day philosophising, because my four grandparents migrated to London to study, to work, to seek refuge from persecution. They found jobs, then each other; they renounced their former citizenships to settle and stay; they raised children. They paid taxes. They never claimed social benefits. Why would they?

There is a problem in this country called race, and people who do not have peach skin, deep eye sockets, straight hair and thin lips are ceaselessly made to feel unwelcome. I can't be proud of a country whose people constantly question my birthplace. It is always assumed that I, and others who resemble me, come from somewhere else. The location is abstract, and foreign, and far away. When migrants are demonised by the media and by politicians, as they currently are, I wonder what is the desired alternative. Nationalism in England has a nasty undercurrent of racism and fascism. Currently, new migrants and religious minorities are scapegoated for the nation's problems; whilst descendants of old migrants are constantly made to feel unwelcome, like we're not part of the country. I guess that I don't always want to be British, but I am, and there's no where else for me to go. This is the home that I come from, and I have no choice but to stay.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House

We finally made it to the Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House; it was absolutely wonderful, in so many ways.  It closes on the 26th February, so I am typing like the wind in order that any readers might have time to catch it in the next 5 days!

Malick Sidibé was a Malian photographer, who took iconic portrait photographs in Mali following independence  from French colonialisation in 1960. I had previously seen his photographs hung in group exhibitions, and this is the first solo show in the UK. The exhibition was divided into three sections according to their topics and style, and framed photographs were hung in three beautiful high-ceilinged rooms in Somerset House. Nightlife in the capital Bamako depicted snappily-dressed groups of men and women dancing the twist and showing off their record collections. Daytime by the river Niger showed groups of teenagers posing, playing, swimming. The last room displayed a selection of studio portraits, some of which were certainly more posed than the location photography, but all were equally energetic. Sidibé's subjects are notable for their charismatic style, whether clothed in a three-piece checked suit with polished loafers and pork-pie hat, or standing topless wearing a sarong or old jeans. His photography is utterly fresh; you can almost hear the peals of laughter, shouts or cries ringing out. The atmosphere of the exhibition was kept equally upbeat with a varied soundtrack designed by DJ Rita Ray, which I felt was really successful.

All photographs were black-and-white, and were heavily textured from darkroom processing. The crinkly photographic paper was hung loose in white frames, which really gave an additional layer of tactility to the show. We are in the age of images which exist only onscreen, and I can honestly say that the curatorial choice to emphasise the physicality of photographs made it a very special show. I look forward to more like it in the future, and really encourage you to go before it closes!

Malick Sidibé: The Eye of Modern Mali. Somerset House, till 26 February. 
Free entry!
Click here for more information.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Thinking back over 2016...

I just cast an eye over last year's New Year's Eve post, where I sound very sensible and gave myself some equally logical advice: that life's a work in progress. I'd forgotten last year's resolutions, but reviewing them now.

My 2016 plans were:

+ To get up earlier: A complete and utter failure. I have come to accept that I am an 'afternoon person'. I get up at 10am, go to bed at 2am, and my peak hours of productivity are between 1 and 5pm. I have been trying to skew my schedule to fit around this, and as such, my teaching hours are afternoons and evenings, with the odd horrible early morning (working before noon- gasp!) for marking, lesson prep and admin. I still haven't managed to shake off the sense of guilt that I get when I compare my alarm clock to friends with an office job; but in actual fact, I get 8 hours sleep and approximately a 7 hour work day + breaks + commuting time, which seems fair.

+ To stop wearing red and purple together: A success. I've been introducing more neutral colours into my wardrobe (browns and greys), and keeping jewel tones separate from each other. I'm starting to look less mad, just mildly eccentric. Next step: to stop wearing pink and yellow together...

+ To get my Masters! A rip roaring success! I haven't made much of an announcement, but you are currently reading the blog of a Master of Arts, Distinction.

Oh alright then, so this is the announcement. I'm pretty chuffed. I've lined up a few academic opportunities which start immediately in the new year, and. I will also be preparing some essays to submit to academic journals. I want to keep treading the balance between Diaspora Studies, Cultural Studies, and the Histories of Fashion & Performance Costume.

Small starts, small steps, so do wish me luck.

Friday, 7 October 2016

What I'm Reading: Autumn Edition

Now that I've handed in my Masters dissertation and no longer have a reading list as long as my arm (literally - my bibliography was 8 pages), it's nice to introduce varied bedside and tube-time reading to my daily routine of writing, eating, and knitting. It's also nice to do more than only reading the relevant chapter of a book because you're running out of time. There are many texts that I'd like to revisit, and I'm sure I will; but for now I'm having a little bit of a break from academic writing. Here's what's on my nightstand now.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (2014)
I heard Klein give the Edward Said Memorial Lecture at the Southbank Centre earlier this year. I'm now reading her latest book, which the lecture referred to. She is a compelling speaker and a meticulous writer, quite incorruptible. This book, about the climate crisis, is kind of depressing as it demonstrates how much power has been taken out of the hands of people thanks to corporate legislation. As she puts it, truly effective green solutions are not going to be achieved by middle-class people shopping at farmer's markets. It's an important book; we need more people like her.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
As I summarised on Twitter: 'Horny young man wanders around Paris, feeling hungry and trying to write.' I don't love Henry Miller anything as much as Anaïs Nin, but I'm still enjoying Tropic of Cancer. It feels ruthlessly contemporary, in many ways showing how little we've moved on since 1934.

Tales of Two Cities, Hong Kong and Singapore edited by Alice Clark-Platts, S. Mickey Lin, Edmund Price, Harmony Sin (2015)
I often have a book of short stories on the go. I think that I actually prefer them over novels. I found this book in the big Kinokuniya in Takashimaya mall in Singapore. Kinokuniya is an international Japanese book chain, but I always visit it when I'm in Asia because it has excellent pan-Asian contemporary literature published in English. Tales of Two Cities is a collection of stories set in Singapore and Hong Kong featuring authors chosen from the respective local writers' groups. I don't love all of the stories, but it's an entertaining insight into life in these two cities, that I spent time in over the summer.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Waste Not, Want Not: Slow Fashion October over at Tailoring Tales

This year, I'm participating in Slow Fashion October, a month-long conversation about fashion, clothing, craft and sustainability hosted by Karen Templer of Fringe Association. A key part of my passion for costume & textiles has been sustainability, and I have long been working to destigmatise home-made, second-hand clothing. To dress in clothing that does not have an adverse impact on the environment or human rights, one does not have to own a wardrobe full of beige tree-hugger chic. Now going by the moniker 'Slow Fashion', sustainable clothing choices reverberate into our deeper lifestyle choices.

As my personal spin on slow fashion relates to home dressmaking and second-hand shopping, I've chosen to blog my participation in Slow Fashion October over on my craft blog Tailoring Tales. I hope you'll join in the conversation there!

Click here to read about the Slow Fashion October initiative
Click here to read my posts over on Tailoring Tales

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Underpinnings Museum :: Kickstarter Campaign

Image courtesy of The Underpinnings Museum; photography by Tigz Rice Studios

With museums around the world on subjects are varied as bottles, fans and shoes, or even focussing solely on brands, it seems incredible that no similar resource has existed on the topic of underwear. Often taken for granted in daily life, or given limited focus in historical research, underwear is in fact key to the development of silhouettes in fashion history, a foundation both corporeal and conceptual.

The Underpinnings Museum is a new, exciting venture from a trio of lingerie experts of differing fields: designer Karolina Laskowska, blogger and academic researcher Lori Smith, and photographer Tigz Rice. Consisting primarily of a digital archive, it will offer clear and detailed photographs of historical pieces to demonstrate the evolution of underwear throughout the ages. The initial collection being documented dates from 1880-1960, but the Museum aims to develop its contemporary collection, and even offers a plan for working with current lingerie brands.

Aimed at a broad audience of lingerie enthusiasts, designers, and researchers, this resource will - amazingly- be free to access. However, it's not there yet. The founders aim to launch the Museum in the new year, and are now running a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund the materials and resources needed to complete preparing and documenting the digital archive of historical pieces. And so, in order to open this fantastic resource to the public, they need you!

The campaign has already raised just under 50% of their target in the first 3 days, and it runs until Sunday 30th October. Campaign donations start from just £1, and there are a range of rewards available for donors.

Click here to read in depth about the museum on their Kickstarter page.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Dandyism & Black Masculinity at the Photographer's Gallery

Continuing in my time-honoured tradition of not making it to an exhibition till the day it closes, I finally saw the show Made You Look: Dandyism & Black Masculinity at the Photographer's Gallery on its final day last weekend.

It was a great show, displaying a carefully-hung collection of photographs which were chosen with both sensitivity and a sense of humour by curator Ekow Eshun. The show explored active articulations of Black male identity through style, operating under the notion of the performative nature of masculinity. In a mixture of formal portraits, documentary/street photography, self-portraits and more, the exhibition challenged the notion of the Black body as a sexualised object. The subjects' self-presentation was key to the show, and their demonstration of alternative modes of masculinity than is typically given to Black men in media and popular culture that typically caters to a White gaze.

Two favourite photographers were the MoroccanHassan Hajjaj's exuberantly colourful portraits dominated by colour and pattern; and Malian Malick Sidibé's black-and-white 1970s portraits. In these two photographers' works, as well as more generally across the exhibition, the subjects gazed forth penetratingly through exuberant pattern and often-extravagant style; clothing is used as a tool to enhance the articulation of their identity. It's this common theme that displays interesting men with great style - and creates a clear difference between portrait and fashion photography.

Curator Ekow Eshun's video of the show is also available online, as is his accompanying essay. I can only recommend you explore both.