Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's a style because they [White] wear it

Reading Maira's article really intrigued me, especially the section about Indo-chic. While originally, henna is a "practice done by and for women, particularly for wedding ceremonies in South Asia..." it completely loses its meaning when appropriated by the Western cultural consumpotion (Maira 342). Merely two decades ago, South Asian community was still threatened by racist violence, namely the Dot Busters of New Jersey. As most of us are already familiar with the incident, it is not necessary to reiterate the facts. Nonetheless, it amazes me how strong the power of the "majority" and how big the influence of "superiority" are. While henna and bindhi are not the same, the popularized commodifications of both speak volumn to the Dot Busters incident. The victims of the Dot Busters were wearing the bindhi as it is supposed to traditionally. They wore it as a symbol of their cultural heritage, yet they were discriminated against. However, as soon as Madonna and Gwen Stefani incorporated the henna and bindhi onto their body, those symbols carry an entirely different meaning. It became trendy to spot a henna design that is marketed as "temporary tattoos" (Maira 343). Even the marketing itself alters the meaning of the cultural symbols. Henna was not a style of tattoos to begin with. Yet the West decided to commercialize and advertise it as an alternative to tattoos.

However, even though the cultural meaning is lost with the Western appropriation, it is still intact when worn by South Asians. Now this is a troubling fact that is also expressed in the video that we saw in class. There is no distinction between American born South Asians and foreign born South Asians; as long as they wear the symbols they will be looked at as foreigners and that it suits them as an ethnic symbol. On the contrary, when worn by White Americans, they are reduced to elements of exotic ethnic decorations. Other than that, there is no preservation of cultural significances. The only time I've seen it preserved is in an independent film titled "Chutney Popcorn".

In the movie, the main character is a young South Asian lesbian woman who is in a relationship with a young White American woman. The main character is also a henna artist and she does a lot of designs for her partner and the design actually symbolizes their relationship. The appreciation of her partner is one that truly take into the cultural heritage of the practice into consideration. She did not wear the designs simply as decorations that enhance her beauty but as a symbols of her love for the South Asian artist that is her partner. Nonetheless, that is a movie example. I might not know but have yet to come across a real life scenario.

The sad thing about the appropriation is that those who are bought into the idea of consumerism will now have to pay great amount of money for a henna design while ethnically, it is made at a very "low price" or even without cost. Consumer culture does know how to rake profit, just like what happened to the Hip Hop movement.

An trailer of the movie from

Entry #4

by Nghia Trinh

Maira, Sunaia. "Henna and Hip Hop: The Politics of Cultural Production and the Work of Cultural Studies." 2000.
Chutney Popcorn. Direct by Nisha Ganatra. 1999.
1st image from alwaysfabulousevents.blogspot.
2nd image from biwriters.livejournal.
Trailer from youtube

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