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Monday, 25 July 2016

Colliding with Java in Jogja

Street food seating in Jogja, July 2016

All places in the world are a mixture of the bitter and the sweet. The overall taste depends on our outlook: our capacity to endure unpleasantness, or our perspective on joy. Personal tendencies have the biggest influence, and so often when we are abroad we are seeking something left behind. Imagined concepts can be as true to the individual as concrete realities. What is it we desire when we travel to foreign lands? Pleasure, novelty, but overall a sense of authenticity that is frequently characterised and sold as a dip into the exotic unknown.

Do these places really exist? And if they do, would we really want to go to them? We stay four nights in Jogja, and by the end I am adamant that no one could accuse us of not seeing the 'real' Jogja. Indeed, unlike many places in this wide world, there are not two different sides to this city. The real Jogja is everywhere around; but whether it marries up with the perceived image of the 'real' in the East, the Orientalist vision rather than the Asian reality - well, that depends on what one hoped to find there.

Joining the locals in Jogja, shoes off and on a mat on the pavement. July 2016

In Jogja, we take a tut-tut down polluted, diesel-fumed roads; get lost searching for spices in huge markets selling all the clothes one could imagine to exist in the world; and sit in luxury air-conditioning amongst relentless traffic that's either reckless, hedonistic or selfish. We climb up newly-built temples on ancient foundations until our legs ache, and drive for hours and hours into the countryside, understanding that whilst the rural is likely to be found, the land has long been colonised. We see what the Javanese want us to see; but it is not glossy or glamorous. Entirely unlike Bali, Java exists as it exists. Arriving here, one cannot pretend to live in fantasy: Jogja is unapologetic and brash. It has the feel of a city in the area of a town, with a near-constant amplified call-to-prayer amongst a wealth of colourful people to a backdrop of green and grey buildings. This here is an Indonesian reality, quite at odds with images of tropical rainforests and unspoilt air. Make of it what you will.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Consuming the Exotic: Discovering Oneself or Getting Lost?

Flying over a volcano in East Java, July 2016

Tourism is a balance between consuming place, and being consumed. Images of land, space and place are cleverly constructed to weave an imagined experience that frequently is only as real as its own discourse allows it to be. You consume by buying, and you consume by eyeing. Coming to the Far East as a Westerner, there is an extra degree of foreignness, a search for exoticism and difference that is entirely played to in order to create, and sell, experiences memorable.

Finding yourself in the East is a horrible cliché that's too commonly lived out by foreigners, with varying degrees of success. But in many ways, all trips are ways of testing oneself when out of routine. Time away from home is temporary. Being finite, it is a form of escapism mental as well as corporeal. I like to make my own itinerary on trips, to steer away from pre-arranged activities and large groups. This is not always successful, but with each trip I make I learn about how to make decisions. Frequently, I forget past lessons, the moral of the story coming back to me in flashes after I've already discovered my error. But the conclusion I've come to, after travelling in various 'exotic' lands, is that outsiders only see as much as locals allow us to. There is a certain desire to get lost, to explore; but tourism is a lucrative business, and frequently this longing for the unknown is in fact mapped out beforehand, by hands we choose to ignore. We tread on paths already carved out.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Portals and Hubs: Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta Airport

Gate E4 at Jakarta Airport, July 2016

So often we find ourselves in portals or transit hubs with too much time. I've travelled all over the world having thoughts and experiences in portals and hubs, and have decided to start documenting them here on Dress Me Up, Drag Me Out. It will be interesting to hear how your experience of these liminal spaces differ from mine, and how the spaces change over time.


The airport in Jakarta is unlike many European transit hubs. The planners have endowed it with an Indonesian flavour: timber beaming, orchids, an abundance of souvenir shops, and authentically failing air conditioning. It is also full of windows: inside this airport we are definitely connected to the outside. Nonetheless, a stillness prevails inside: dramatic fleshy orchid petals of white and pink are suspended in the air, their stillness belying their life; the constructed airport stands in for a hothouse or jungle habitat. At the entrance to the souvenir shops are display of gigantic butterflies, framed and pinned onto a cardboard backing. This is not Victoriana: the butterflies are vibrantly-coloured, fresh, and not a speck of dust. They have been culled for novelty; unlike the orchids, they decorate the space by their death. Further in the shops are a bounty of carved wooden sculptures featuring Buddha, Barong, monkeys, and Rama; stories from the past made available to the present.


Jakarta airport, July 2016
The airports in the London conurbation are a world of difference. There are no national flora of roses, thistles, daffodils or shamrock, and any local fauna such as mice or rats are hidden from view; that is, until the visitor reaches the Underground, where they frolic merrily on platforms and tube tracks. Instead of polished stone and solid timber, we tend to have kilometres-worth of dull, industrial carpet with no thought for beauty. It makes me wonder what visitors' first impressions of the United Kingdom really are, especially after leaving such calm and decorated surrounding such as these in Jakarta.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Foreignness in an Other City

Self-portrait in Singapore, City Hall, July 2016
Passing through Singapore, and passing through Jakarta, I consider matters of race in a new light. Locals approach me in their own language, immediately phrasing questions in Mandarin or Indonesian, respectively. My mixed-racial facial features do not form a barrier to acceptance in South-East Asia. It's quite unlike how I'm viewed in Europe, when the European parts of my heritage are ignored or overlooked in favour of the seemingly-exotic hints of Otherness. Here, I'm filed away neatly and immediately as 'Chinese' (or probably 'mixed'), with no need to interrogate my right to be here, or question my circumstance of passing through this space.

Portrait of a crowd as depicted in Singapore. City Hall, July 2016
Note the many spectacle-wearers!

Both Singapore and Indonesia are intensely multi-cultural; Singapore, for instance, writes signs in four languages as a standard: English, Chinese, Malay and Hindi. Despite this, these countries certainly are not without their own problems of racism and extremist nationalism. Nonetheless, it becomes clear that the vision of a nation's face need not be narrow, and that it is indeed possible to imagine nationhood as encompassing people from multiple, and mixed, ethnic backgrounds. Northern Europe definitely needs to learn from this progressive stance on race in these ex-colonial countries.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Transitions in Transit

Jakarta Airport, July 2016

I write today from Jakarta Airport, having lost half a day in time-travel. As I flew east, I moved forwards in time as well as distance. How strange that the Euro-centric view of the East has been that Asia and the so-called ‘third world’ is backwards, behind, when we Europeans read from left to right, horizontally along a page. The journey from West to East mimics our sense of the rise to the right-hand side as making progress. Paradoxically, the docks allowing entrance from the East to the West have historically been the poorer areas in cities, the conflux of docking sailors brewing licentiousness, encouraging prostitution, leading to miscegenation. Mixing and blurring of boundaries and cultures has always led the way for progress, development, and new ideas; perhaps that is why it has equally been monitored, scrutinised, and regulated.

By the time I arrive at my destination, after more lost hours spent in travelling, waiting, delays, and airport connections, I will have been in transit for more than twenty-four hours. During that time, I have turned twenty-five. In some ways I’ve been awaiting this moment for over a decade, when I first watched Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane squeak onscreen: ‘Twenty-five, that’s a quarter of a century. Makes a girl think!’ My birthday falls on the anniversary of Bastille Day, the French Revolution. 2016 has been a tumultuous year in world events; not a week goes by without some tragedy or coup around this wide world. We are not truly safe anywhere: on local streets, at restaurants, in clubs, on trains, planes, workplaces and place of worship. The answer is not to stay at home: conversely, we must keep on going out, meeting people, living fulfilling lives. It’s an oft-repeated truth that the only thing that we can be sure of in life is our death. During my twenty-four hours, I have been more aware than ever of my privilege, and thankful for my safety. Truthfully, it is impossible to predict what will happen next. Living isolated in Scandinavia for the first half of this year demonstrated to me more fully than ever before how important it is to nurture connections with family and friends, and not to take loved ones for granted. Be sensible, but don’t have regrets: this has been my motto in recent years, and is more pertinent than ever.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

AUB Costume degree show at the Oxo Tower Wharf, London

Multi-media costume designs by Edie B Smith
Exhibition design & model box by Zoe Parkinson
18th Century glory by Thomas Murphy
The BA Costume course at the Arts University Bournemouth showed a striking and energetic exhibition at the Oxo Tower Wharf last week. Thanks to creative exhibition design that solved the always-challenging brief of the touring exhibition, Arts University Bournemouth graduates stood out at the group show, which featured several out-of-London theatre design courses.

The course continues to deliver graduates with strong costume making skills and a multi-media approach to costume design. A genuine enthusiasm for costume in its widest sense is felt throughout; featured here are just a few pieces that stood out to me.

Edie B. Smith's use of collage and stitch on calico merged the designer and maker through the medium of costume design
Holly Isaacs' great 1930s tailoring is appropriately set in quite an art-deco manner thanks to the exhibition design by Zoe Parkinson
Intricate beadwork by Beth Hicks
Edie B Smith's costume designs riffed on domesticity and home sewing
Laura Sanders' pantomime dame costume feeds my current research into chinoiserie and costume
I couldn't not snap this fabulous & gold Isis costume by another Anushka - this was made by Annushka Rogers
Showcasing the diversity of students' costume making: tailoring, ballet, corsetry and period making.

Very best of luck to this year's graduates on their future paths!


Click here for more information on BA Costume and Performance Design at the Arts University Bournemouth.


Friday, 1 July 2016

Coups, crises and the EU

There are so many things that I want to be writing about, but for the last seven days I have felt completely unable to move on from the shocking, tragic, confusing news of Brexit. I'm not the only one: you hear it mentioned absolutely everywhere: on the streets, on buses and tubes, in cafes, at university, on the phone and online. In recent days, more events have transpired and it's a turbulent time in British politics. I don't want to dwell on it more than necessary: for endless information, read the newspapers, online or in broadsheet. But I'm writing this very short acknowledgement to pay tribute to something momentous that is happening in my home at the moment, and I make a short wish for better times than right now.