Friday, 26 September 2014

Reporting on 'Bedouin Women and Saga Bwoys' at the Clothes, Cloth & Culture Group 25th September 2014

Dr. Michael McMillan talks about his Gabicci cardigan and 'yardie' style
The Clothes, Cloth & Culture Group autumn programme got off to an inspiring start last night with presentations from Michael McMillan and Sue Jones, delivered in a conversational style that has become characteristic of our monthly textiles hub.

The evening was particularly thrilling at a personal level since parallels could be drawn between the inspiration points for my own body of research – my father’s elegance provided a catalyst for my doctoral research into the creolised aesthetic of the Empire Windrush generation and the impact of the African-Caribbean presence on English male dress; my mother’s stitching provided the creative spark for my current concern with ‘crafting difference’ and the way in which history might somehow be worked by hand, concerns which underpin the ethos of the Clothes, Cloth & Culture Group itself.

At first glance McMillan and Jones’ papers may seem somewhat unrelated. As you will hear from the podcast, through sharing ideas about cloth and memories marked by the wearing of particular clothes, the connections between the two became clearer as the evening progressed. Both spoke of the way in which clothes and cloth allow those without a voice to speak about themselves and the way in which they would like to be seen. Both spoke about cultural entanglements - for McMillan across the islands and across the Atlantic, for Jones across Jordan and England. They pinpointed cross-generational exchanges. They discussed the idea of repeating stories of rebellion and the role that the ritual of dressing plays in the struggle to be seen.

Dr. Sue Jones talking about her mother's embroidery
The richness of McMillan and Jones’ presentations reminded us of centrality of clothes and cloth to the human experience. Jones’ conversation piece, a linen tablecloth embroidered by her mother, demonstrated to us the way in which cloth becomes saturated with cultural meaning as craft techniques and family keepsakes are passed from one generation to the next. This is what motivates each of us to engage in this ongoing conversation with everyday stuff.

© Christine Checinska 26th September 2014

Friday, 12 September 2014

Clothes, Cloth and Culture Group. 25 September 2014 'Saga Bwoys and Bedouin Women’

Bani Hamida Weaving Project, Makawir Centre, Jordan. Photo: Sue Jones
Three Jamaican immigrants (left to right) John Hazel, a 21-year-old boxer, Harold Wilmot, 32, and John Richards, a 22-year-old carpenter, arriving at Tilbury on board the ex-troopship 'Empire Windrush', smartly dressed in zoot suits and trilby hats. Photo: Douglas Miller/Getty Images

Join us on Thursday 25th September 2014 at 6:30pm - 8.30pm to hear presentations by Dr Michael McMillan and Dr Sue Jones followed by an informal question and answer session. The meeting will be convened by Dr Christine Checinska, the 2nd Stuart Hall Library Animateur.

Eventbrite - Clothes, Cloth & Culture Group, September  

What the Bedouin women taught me - re-connecting with my mother's craft skills - Dr Sue Jones

I went in the opposite direction of my mother's life as a housewife and home-working seamstress - non-domestic, professional, university educated, without children and travelling around the world doing consultancies.
But my work always related to my background - concerned with poverty, income generation and women's lives and empowerment. I made a particular connection with a Bedouin women's weaving project in Jordan.
It is only by reflecting on this very long term relationship with the older Bedouin weavers and their daughters - that I can see how they helped me re-focus on my mother and her craft skills.
It leaves me with current questions to share here - about women's involvement in craft work now and how far their work can be seen and acknowledged as creative or is it just a source of income? What was it like for my mother?
Dr Sue Jones: As an anthropologist and professional urban planner, Dr Sue Jones has been involved, since the 1980s, in consultancies, lectures and writing textbooks about poverty and community projects around the world, including Africa and the Caribbean.
In 2006, she completed a 20 year longitudinal PhD thesis of Bedouin women and their weaving project in Jordan. Since 2009 she has been a Visiting Research fellow at Goldsmiths, focused on Material Culture in the contemporary context. This has included: (2011) an exhibition about the weaving project, (2013) a special Issue of the journal Textile -Materialising voices from the Middle East and (2014) a film with the Bani Hamida women. She is currently researching textile case studies around the world.

‘Saga Bwoys and Rude Bwoys': Migration, Grooming and Dandyism - Dr Michael McMillan

I have been always struck by how men of my father's generation were so well dressed in those iconic black and white documentary photographs depicting their arrival after a three-week transatlantic journey by sea. Their neatly pressed suited with and a white breast pocket handkerchief, polished brogue shoes, white starched shirt with throat straggling tie and a trilby hat cocked at an angle. In Eastern Caribbean vernacular, they were ‘Saga Bwoys' or ‘Sweet Bwoys', a masculine persona who in my rite of passage from being short pants ‘coloured' boy to a black British young man I saw as an exemplar of ‘good grooming' in his sartorial attention to detail as words for the ladies danced off his tongue like Lord Kitchener's Calypso. These ‘Lonely Londoners' would later become Jamaican ‘Rude Bwoys' swaggering as if to a Ska or Reggae beat in their two-tone mohair suits with the attitude and creole chat of the best dressed chicken on the street. In my camel Crombie coat, suede trimmed Garbicci cardigan or ‘yardie cardie', pleated Farah slacks, Bally shoes with shiny buckle stepping out like a ‘Rude Bwoy' in a ‘Causal Style' to ‘rave' at a Sound System dance. ‘Saga Bwoys' and ‘Rude Bwoys' are constituents of the contemporary ‘Raggamuffin' geneology that as subcultural black masculine practices have been self-fashioned in the rhizoid network of racial, transcultural and diaspora exchange and transfer.
Yet there has been a limited focus on how and what postwar Caribbean migrant men contributed through the material culture and performativity of the ‘Saga Bwoy' and ‘Rude Bwoy' to a diasporic understanding of black dandyism. Using Carol Tulloch's ‘style-fashion-dress' amongst other conceptual framework: this presentation will begin to explore the ontology and materiality of a process that saw the aesthetic embodiment and reconstruction of diasporic ‘Caribbeanness' in a British context of the dressed black male body; a body that would come to reconfigure the streets of urban Britain with fresh dynamic masculinities in motion.
Dr. Michael McMillan is a writer, dramatist, artist/curator and scholar of Vincentian migrant parentage whose recent play includes: a new translation of Bertolt Brecht's The Good Person of Sezuan (Trenchtown) (MAT tour 2010 & 2012) and curatorial work includes: My Hair: Black Hair Culture, Style & Politics (Origins of the Afro Comb, Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology 2013), I Miss My Mum's Cooking (Who More Sci-Fi Than Us, KAdE Kunsthal, Amersfoort, Netherlands 2012), The Waiting Room (Stories & Journeys, Gwynedd Museum & Art Gallery, Bangor, North Wales 2012), The Beauty Shop (198 Contemporary Arts & Learning 2008), The West Indian Front Room (Geffrye Museum 2005-06), The Front Room: Migrant Aesthetics in the Home (Black Dog Publishing 2009) He has an Arts Doctorate from Middlesex Univ. 2010 and is currently an Associate Lecturer in Cultural & Historical Studies as well as Associate Researcher RAS project at London CSM/Wimbledon CSM, UAL.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Pan on the road! Pan on the road! [1]

Late August bank holiday Monday in London is synonymous with two things: the end of the summer and Carnival. Carnival is the vernacular and official shorthand for the Notting Hill Carnival.

As the recent BBC documentaries on Carnival note, the date of the first event is anything from 1962 to ’64 to ’65. Similarly there are a number of theories on precisely how it started and by whom. So, according to some calculations, 2014 marked its fiftieth anniversary. To coincide with this Tate Modern staged the event Up Hill Down Hall: an indoor carnival.

Up Hill Down Hall showcased Give and Take a new performance piece by Hew Locke with Batala Samba-Reggae band and Marlon Griffiths’ piece No Black in the Union Jack – the title of which was not only a reminder of Paul Gilroy’s great early work but of course the Rock Against Racism era of protest marches populated by youth. These works were presented against a backdrop of cut ‘n’ mix improvised sounds created Dubmorphology, (Gary Stewart and Trevor Mathison), and an architectural design by Gia Wolff. An intervention orchestrated by Sonia Boyce in conjunction with students and recent graduates from Central Saint Martins completed the afternoon’s events.

Sadly I arrived at the tail end of the day. But there were still streamers on the ground and a thumping beat in the air, still crowds moving through the Turbine Hall and congregating in chattering groups up on the mezzanine; a reminder of the temporary nature of the freedom that carnival affords in London, in the Caribbean, now and back then, way back then, prior to the 1960’s moment that sparked the Notting Hill original.

Carnival in the Caribbean  - as physical space, theoretical trope, as metaphor - has always represented a site in which cultures, ideas and concepts collide. It represents the destabalisation of everyday boundaries, be they rooted in class, gender, wealth, sexuality, race and, to use Kobena Mercer’s term, the ‘pigmentocracy’ that grew from the hierarchies based on skin tone prevalent in Caribbean plantation slave society. Carnival is in a sense a ‘borderlands space’. It is a place of possibility and newness. And it is also the place where the spiritual and the secular meet. In my paper Reconstruction Work, presented at the July Clothes, Cloth & Culture Group meeting, I discussed the creolised aesthetics of the enslaved on the Jamaican plantations, arguing that individualised clothing became a means of articulating something of the self that broke free of the then societal constraints. I suggested that that which could not be articulated verbally was articulated through the dressing and styling the body, through the performance of identity. Carnivals such as the Jamaican Jonkannu festival, provided a space in which these refashioned creolised identities could be experienced and displayed; in a sense, the boundary between the inner and outer self could be transgressed. Both performers’ and spectators’ presentation of self could, in my view, be regarded as forms of vernacular street theatre. I touched on the rude bwai fastidious self-styling – the clothing, the accessory, the walk, the pose – suggesting that this too might be seen as a form of strategic resistance. Each example reflects the transformation that is characteristic of Carnival. But these transformations, these creolised cultural expressions, come out of contention not blending. Creativity here emerges from the friction that occurs as differing and hierarchical cultures, ideas and concepts clash and rub against one another, generating something new that is unfamiliar yet familiar. Within this Carnival space there is freedom, albeit a temporary one.

Shango and ZeZe Harpp performing. Photo: Christine Checinska

This week my creative practice as a design consultant took me to Munich to search for cloth for the new collection. Serpentining my way through the exhibition hall, I found myself in a tin structure at the centre of the denim forum, having been drawn there by a hypnotic drumming that had more than an echo of a steel pan, but with a more muffled ‘dirty’ sound, a spare sporadic beat bouncing up against the rhythmic strumming of an acoustic Latin guitar; familiar yet unfamiliar… certainly unexpected in a fashion environment. I was in the midst of an accidental ‘up hill/down hall’ carnival in miniature! This wonderfully creolised soundscape was the result of a creative collaboration between Emoriô Faô, Brazilian guitarist and leader Shango and the German percussion artist ZeZe Harpp. (Shango, of course, is the god of thunder, lightning and fire in the Caribbean… and a character often present in carnival masquerades and certain religious ceremonies) The artists themselves describe their unique sound as a coming together of African and Indian influences – perhaps because of my own cultural background, I heard traces of the Caribbean: vintage Afro-Creole mento, cumbia, jazz. After all, remembering Edouard Glissant, the Caribbean could be regarded as the home of syncretism.

 Ju Mu at work. Photo: Christine Checinska

Whilst Shango and ZeZe Harpp played, the contemporary artist Ju Mu scribbled intricate drawings of mythical creatures directly onto the walls of the structure; white chalk onto black surfaces. Again, to see this is remarkable in a rag trade setting. Further, a small team of designers printed and stitched together oversized t-shirts right there in the space. Unusual. The invisible boundaries between visual art, music, fashion and textile design were momentarily blurred within this tin room within a room. The invisible boundaries between my own compartmentalised creative practices collapsed.

One of Ju Mu's drawings. Photo: Christine Checinska

Coming back to the title of this article, there is an affinity between the essence of carnival highlighted above and our approach to the Clothes Cloth & Culture Group. Our aim is to bring together voices from across the spectrum of artists, designers, writers and ‘thinkers’ working with cloth. We actively seek out cross-cultural perspectives and the viewpoints of those who are seldom heard. We are continually inspired by the new debates that emerge from globalisation’s multi-layered yet still at times hierarchical entanglements. So as the summer closes and we gear up to launch our programme of autumn events …

Pan on the road! Pan on the road!

© Christine Checinska September 2014

[1] ‘Pan on the road!’ traditionally shouted at the start of a carnival procession.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Clothes Cloth and Culture Group, July 2014

The African-Caribbean presence in Britain

A full house and a fascinating evening at the last CCC Group meeting before the summer break.

The presenters were Dr Christine Checinska and Dr. Denise Noble.

Family artefacts from Christine Checinska
displayed as 'conversation pieces'  for the Group
Dr. Christine Checinska is the Second Stuart Hall Library Animateur. Christine's ideas and enthusiasm were hugely important to the foundation of the group. The title of her presentation, Reconstruction Work refers to the lack of representation of African-Caribbean creative output in fashion and textiles. Christine talked about the influence of Stuart Hall's writings on her research into cloth, culture and race. She brought along some family objects which are both powerful personal mementos and tangible records of a time, place and culture.
Read more about both presentations on the webpage.

Dr. Denise Noble of Ohio State University. Denise was brought up nearby in Shoreditch. It was strangely appropriate for her to return to the area to talk about the home-making of her mother and friends who came to Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s immigrant women. She talked in particular about the colourful doilies handcrafted by the women, now almost impossible to find. Denise offered her thoughts on the wider societal associations of these bright artefacts. You can listen to her presentation below.