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Emma Dick

This chapter explores female identity in dress in Bhutan and how this has been shaped in the twenty-first century by the competing and complementary forces of the Royal Government, contact with international development agencies, and the growth of digital technology in the kingdom. The impact of national policies such as driglam namzha, a sumptuary dress code, and Gross National Happiness on women’s dress is discussed and explored alongside discussion and analysis of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck and how her royal sartorial identity is crafted and presented both within Bhutan and globally. Critical analysis of how this sits alongside the everyday dress and stories of ordinary Bhutanese women is placed within a broader discussion of how the creation, consumption, appropriation, and display of heritage textiles and garments has evolved in Bhutan and how this contributes to debates surrounding the politics of dress and globalization.

in Threads of globalization
Ronnie Close

Chapter 5 deals with female representation as subjects operating under the heteronormative lens that polices Egyptian public space. This includes cultural censorship and the problematic role the Egyptian state continues to play as the patriarchal arbiter of behavioural and moral values. Three diverse image-based works are discussed to consider the regulation of female bodies in the public sphere which have triggered responses to tell us much about censorship and misogyny. The first involves the digital self-portrait of feminist Aliaa al-Mahdy who posted a nude self-portrait on her personal blog in 2011. The image went viral within hours resulting in millions of visits to her website. The second visual work examines doctored fashion photographs on the adlat website, a female online community who offer users tips aligned to conservative Muslim values. A third visual case history examines international books on photography stocked in Cairo bookstores. Such anthologies often include nude artworks as part of the canon of Western art history and this presents a dilemma for the regime. In these editions state censorship has been carried out that entails hand-painting each photographic image to deny the full erotic impact of the body for the public viewer. These three mediated visual case studies are indicative of the entangled expression of gender which appears to demand female representation to be in line with traditional conservative codes. Such expressive tensions, between public and private behaviours, are often part of the stresses many feel within contemporary Egypt which are regularly negotiated through photographic representation.

in Decolonizing images
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Decolonial aesthetic futures
Ronnie Close

This final section reconsiders what decoloniality may offer in the context of Egypt. In this sense the photographic image is seen in a new light as a mediation between colonial legacies, nationalist strategies and the potential of decolonializing aesthetics to frame the image as part of a homegrown culture. Moreover, Egypt’s visual culture is a creative expression of its own value codes in the contemporary paradigm, on its own terms, and can authenticate a non-Western visual history which refutes Orientalist trajectories. The book discusses the critical debates on decoloniality theory as a way to rethink local cultural sensibilities and look forward to interpret the forces latent within the photographic image in Egypt.

in Decolonizing images
Ronnie Close

The final chapter looks at the visual approaches of innovative photographic art practices in Egypt. These art photographers remain marginal and the dubious nature of the state’s interference in cultural affairs has impeded the development of a sustainable ecosystem of creative contemporary art practices. Many photographic artists operate with nuanced forms of personal expression, manipulating images and thinking beyond the direct image object itself. This generation of photographic artists have emerged in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings, and set out to create dialogue on cultural representation, identity and photographic aesthetics. The selection of art photography projects examined in this chapter consists of the work of two practitioners, Nadia Mounier and Ibrahim Ahmed, who are indicative of the indigenous reimagining of Egyptian visual culture. This generation has much to say about the state of the nation and patriarchal power, as the personal can become political. These artists constitute a contemporary wave of local image-makers who are rethinking Western narratives on the medium to look both outwards and inwards, capturing life among Egypt’s sprawling cities. Art photography holds a mirror to the globalized nature of modernity, colonial pasts and the emancipatory potential of image cultures vividly felt during 2011.

in Decolonizing images
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A new history of photographic cultures in Egypt
Author:

The events of 25 January 2011 placed Egypt at the front and centre of discussions around radical transformations taking place in global photographic cultures. Yet Egypt and photography share a longer, richer history rarely included in Western histories of the medium. Decolonizing Images focuses on the local visual heritage of Egypt and, in doing so, continues the urgent process of decolonizing the canon of photography. Drawing on a wide range of historical and contemporary visual materials this book discovers the potential of photography as a decolonizing force. In diverse ways the medium has been used to influence political affairs, cultural life and reimaginings of Egypt in the transformation from a colony to a sovereign nation. Ronnie Close presents a new account of the visual cultures produced in and exhibited inside of Egypt by interpreting the camera’s ability to conceal as much as it reveals. He rethinks how the visual has constituted a distinct cultural sensibility on its own terms. This book moves from the initial encounters between local knowledge and Western-led modernity to explore how the image intersects with issues of representation, censorship, activism and art photography. The image disseminates knowledge from the specificity of its time but retains a singular property of its own creative expression that is more than the sum of its parts. Close overturns Eurocentric understandings of the photograph through a compelling narrative on this indigenous visual culture in a complex vision of decolonial difference in contemporary Egypt.

Ronnie Close

Chapter 2 addresses the pictorial turn in Egypt’s visual history to envision the indigenous uses and potentiality of the medium. Although rarely mentioned by Western art historians, Islamic scholars contributed to the invention of photography and primary among them was Cairo-based Ibn al-Haytham who wrote the scientifically influential Kitab al-Manazir (Book of Optics) in the eleventh century. Through such historical innovations the medium became both a subjective lens and psychological space without set boundaries under an age of Ottoman reform and new-found modernity. One intriguing intersection occurred when Orientalist photography met with indigenous visual traditions through the landscape genre. Foregrounded in the launch of the Daguerreotype, the French painter Horace Vernet and photographer Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet went to Egypt to capture its ancient antiquity. However, the lesser-known work by Egyptian photographer Muhammad Sadiq Bey (1822–1902) consists of images of sacred sites of the Islamic world. This unique photographic history contradicts the commonly held perception that Islam harbours injunctions against human representation or Muslim restraint in regards to the visual arts. Local photographers did much to redress the Eurocentric colonial lens and produce other representations of the landscape that emerge out of different social concerns and aesthetic traditions to transcend dominant visual frameworks.

in Decolonizing images
The story of phulkari textiles in The Singh Twins’s Slaves of Fashion
Cristin McKnight Sethi

An often-quoted line from the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib and attributed to the Sikh spiritual leader Guru Nanak, proclaims ‘when you embroider your own blouse, only then will you be considered an accomplished lady.’ The close connection between textile labor, particularly hand embroidery, and constructions of gender is well known and in South Asia has persevered beyond Guru Nanak’s sixteenth-century declaration. Recent craft revival initiatives and income generation projects geared towards female makers use textiles as a focal point, further solidifying this connection between textiles, ideas of femininity, social activism, and economic development. This chapter explores these themes by examining the case of embroidered textiles known as phulkaris which were historically made in pre-Partition Punjab. Now actively produced in both India and Pakistan, these textiles have become icons of Punjabi identity and remain deeply connected to histories of women’s work and constructions of gender. From recent phulkari revival initiatives by women’s cooperatives in both India and Pakistan, to the incorporation of phulkari imagery in the Slaves of Fashion series by the UK-based artist The Singh Twins, phulkaris have emerged as potent symbols that offer insights into new ways of thinking about textiles, social activism, and gender.

in Threads of globalization
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Women’s jeans in postwar Taiwan
Ying-chen Peng

Blue jeans, a staple of a modern wardrobe, are simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. Their simplicity of style is a stark contrast to their rich cultural significance. Blue jeans have gone from workwear for miners and heavy laborers to a symbol of shared economic struggle during the Great Depression and a rejection of established social values and order by postwar young rebels, to an icon of subculture of the 1960s and 1970s. In recent years, scholars have begun to extend their inquiries to analyzing blue jeans’ phenomenal world popularity, revealing a global map of blue jeans woven by the US military and political presence, and local reinterpretation of the garment’s cultural symbolism. Aa ‘glocal’ approach is taken to scrutinize blue jeans in Taiwan’s postwar visual and material culture, focusing on their influence in redefining gender roles in the 1970s and 1980s. The blue jean was labeled with ‘sexiness,’ ‘young rebels,’ and ‘Western spirit,’ due to its introduction from US soldiers in Taiwan and the sweeping popularity of American subculture among urban middle-class youngsters. Wearing jeans was a statement to identify with these values. However, what happened when a woman wore a pair of blue jeans? How did she navigate a way to mitigate the conflict between these labels and the dominating Confucian morality that advocated for women’s covered body, discreet behavior, and obedience to patriarchy? Women’s blue jeans in popular media – magazines and films –as well as school protocol and critiques are examined to illuminate the gendered history of blue jeans in modern Taiwan.

in Threads of globalization
Ronnie Close

Chapter 4 follows the street activism during the 2011 period through online digital platform projects. These vernacular images enabled new understandings of cultural politics to visualize the revolutionary hope of emergent grassroots movements. Two archival projects, 858: Archive of Resistance and Filming Revolution, are innovative online media works which corroborate the historic visual legacy of collectivist thinking in an unconventional archival way. These media projects set out to counter the best efforts of the military regime to detract from the popular memory of political dissent and civil disobedience during this revolutionary time. Cairo video collective Mosireen (Determined) were indicative of this activist spirit within the visceral street atmosphere of 2011. Filming Revolution is a multi-layered, meta-documentary media work developed by filmmaker and academic Alisa Lebow with content drawn from interviews, films, artworks and other digital materials. Both archival projects preserve digital memory to offer a counter-narrative to the governmental propaganda disseminated on the mainstream media. These online works contextualize the recent memory of emancipation during times of revolution and call into question the values, codes and ethics of the digital image in the documentation of struggle. These projects warrant careful consideration because they move beyond chronotropic readings of the digital image alone to embody the activist potential of the photographic document. They represent the marginal in the reproduction of new knowledge in this non-linear treatment of history.

in Decolonizing images
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Unruly photography
Ronnie Close

The introduction summarizes the main argument and theoretical content for the following themed chapters as each one unfolds a particular critical focus to read of bodies of visual materials formed in Egypt. The book sets out to ask fundamental questions of the medium in a challenge to the dominance of Western-led photographic history to present another genealogy of the visual in Egypt by posing the following questions:

1. How has this visual heritage constituted its own sensibility of photographic history?

2. In what ways did local photographic practices respond to the impact of Western modernity?

3. In what ways have local traditions shaped indigenous photographic practices and how have cultural forces used the medium?

4. How has popular engagement with and use of the visual brought about an awareness of image politics?

The picture of Egypt has been fiercely contested and often mythologized within its own nationalist notions for far too long. Moreover, the meaning of photographs cannot be anchored down easily or pigeonholed into uncomplicated and, arguably, unrepresentative narratives. Decolonizing Images sets out to develop a vision on the local, indigenous genealogy of the photographic heritage of Egypt and, in doing so, continues the essential practice of edifying the history of photography.

in Decolonizing images