I chose to revolve my triptych, "Exotic Allure," around the themes of Cultural Appropriation and Orientalism to not only learn about the appropriation my own Asian cultural heritage, but also to respond to today's fetishism of East Asian cultures. In this day and age when fashion brands, pop icons, and role models are still misappropriating aspects of peoples history and culture through over-saturated images, I feel as if society, even after two centuries, still remains ignorant about the meaning that comes with the clothes we wear.
The first image featured in "Exotic Allure" is a photograph of the Mochida family taken by Dorothea Lange on May 8th, 1942. Her picture depicts a family of Japanese-Americans who are about to be incarcerated and relocated to a Japanese internment camp in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The traditional European clothing; the felt hats, the pea coats, and the trousers, worn by the Mochida family in Lange's photograph indicates that they were a normal American family. Yet, despite the clothes that they wore and their efforts to fit into their native-born country, the government still labeled the Mochida family and their Japanese heritage as "foreign," shipping them away as a safety precaution. The United States' intolerance for other races becomes even more apparent through the identification tags worn by the Mochida children, as they signify the objectification of these people. While the tags were intended to keep the families organized, the nature of Lange's photo herds the family together, illustrating them as if they are animals, or even objects on display. Dorthea Lange's photograph is historically significant, in that its recent release in 2006 is indicative of how our country admits that we have failed, and still fail, to move on from our history of treating East Asians, and people of other cultures for that matter, like foreigners. I felt as if her photograph was appropriate for the "past" portion of "Exotic Allure," as it shows the literal and figurative "baggage" that came with representing your culture in a culturally insensitive country.
Katy Perry then uses the allure of these 'exotic people' to further glamorize her recent performance in the 2013 American Music Awards. Her larger-than-life outfit, coupled with mandolins, taiko drums, fans, lanterns, cherry blossoms, shinto shrines, and powdered faces, hypersexualizes Japanese people and Japanese culture, all while stripping away the meaning and the "baggage" that comes with being of that ethnicity. Her offensive act in the AMA's is also representative of a much larger, ongoing trend among pop singers, where over-the-top western performers will re-render Eastern cultures in order to exotify their shows. For instance, contemporary artists such as Nikki Minaj, Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, and Christina Agulera, just to name a few, have oversaturated many aspects of people's history and culture in order to satisfy their own notions of self distinction. Perry's Orientalist performance, therefore, accurately characterizes the present, as it is just one of many examples of how we often misuse elements of other people's cultures for the sake of image and popularity. To me, this infamous image of Katy Perry is an appropriate follow up of Lange's photograph, as it demonstrates how the United States now ironically worships a culture that we've once dehumanized.
The image of a model wearing a floral printed "kimono" of Zara's "exotic allure" line captures what our society will be like if we continue to treat East Asian cultures as a trend rather than a lifestyle. We can see how tradition transforms into trend when Zara incorrectly labels the model's robe as a "floral printed kimono," when in reality, the model is sporting a piece of clothing that lacks any resemblance of the traditional Japanese garment. Like Katy Perry, Zara fails to respect and represent the cultural significance behind the clothing that create. Additionally, to make matters worse, Zara blatantly sexualizes the model's outfit by naming it "exotic allure" on Instagram, one of the largest social media platforms in the world. This photograph is indicative of the future, as it illustrates how cultural appropriation is becoming both a fashion and a media trend, rather than an offense.
My aim for this project was to visualize the transition from tradition to trend through colors. By visually oversaturating the colors on the canvas, the viewer might have an easier time understanding how the media can oversaturate and hypersexualize East Asian cultures. As each image turns more and more colorful from left to right, it becomes evident that the clothes have become so oversaturated to the point that where they seem almost exotic and fake.
Gazes are uncomfortable. In this piece, however, each gaze is rudely blocked by Kruger's iconic Futura type and a word that correlates with the subject of each image. I did this not only to emulate Kruger's style of covering her subject's facial features, but also to allow the sickly and oversaturated pieces of clothing to interpellate the audience rather than the subjects themselves. In the first image, because Kruger's type covers the gaze of each family member, the white id tags interpellate the viewer instead. This is telling of where most Americans looked first when addressing the Mochida family during WWI and how dehumanizing that gesture was. The second image displays the first instance of color in this piece. As Katy Perry's outrageous costume captures the viewer's attention, pale pink sakura flowers lightly decorate the background of the image. These same flowers then transform into wildly vibrant shapes in the third image.
I also chose to frame this triptych and title it "Exotic Allure" with the date underneath it in order to emulate the formatting and artificial feeling of a fashion magazine.
Through the use of Barbara Kruger's design tactics, the transition of color saturation, and the purposeful manipulation of the gaze in "Exotic Allure," I hope to create an image that is not only transmits meaning, but is also substantial to the cause of ending cultural appropriation.