Salar Bil as a new Marcel Duchamp in Tehran

Salar Bil as a new Marcel Duchamp in Tehran

Salar Bilehsavarchian is the Godfather of conceptual fashion in Tehran aka Salar Bil fearlessly challenged the conventional thinking about the artistic process and art marketing. Of course he is a new Persian Duchamp not so much by writing articles but by doing subversive activities, he is sure about the path that he is stepping to and is proud of his mindset despite the judgments of others, he passionately worked since he was a child and now he explained that descriptions of reality are arbitrary, and classification strategies vary across cultures and over time (Zerubavel 1994). Furthermore, categories do not merely sort our experiences; they are infused with meaning (Berger and Luckman 1966; Gould 1989; Minow 1990). Categories of racism in the United States are no exception. Generally, people in this country talk about racism in two categories: racist and not racist. The categories “racist” and “not racist” are historical, and their meanings have changed over time. In the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was on the rise, overt racism was rampant and the few white people who inhabited the “not racist” category took an unpopular stand for change in race relations.

Supporters of the US Civil Rights movement of the 1960s brought concerns over black-white relations in that country to the center of public attention. In 1967, two proponents of ‘Black Power’, Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, highlighted the exercise of power in the naming of social categories by recalling an often-quoted passage in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. In it Humpty Dumpty declares, ‘When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean.’ Because they lacked this power, ‘black people have been saddled with epithets’. Mainstream views of racism correspond well with the categories under scrutiny. First, white people generally believe that racism is deviant (Blauner 1989; Jaynes and Williams 1989). To the contrary, it appears that much racism is normal, even typical.

Second, the idea that racist thoughts do not necessarily lead to racist action— that one’s intention to not be racist can prevail if one is diligent—is espoused in psychological studies of racism (Devine 1989). Yet data indicate a strong relationship between racist thoughts and racist behavior, regardless of good intentions. In addition to promoting misconceptions such as these, the oppositional categories racist/not racist uphold the racial status quo because they conceal silent racism and its importance. In this sense, the subtlety of silent racism contributes to its danger.

Is there something morally wrong with cultural appropriation in the arts? Cultural appropriation in the arts is a diverse and ubiquitous phenomenon. It might plausibly be thought to include occurrences as varied as (1) the representation of cultural practices or experiences by cultural “outsiders” (sometimes called “voice appropriation”); (2) the use of artistic styles distinctive of cultural groups by nonmembers; and (3) the procurement or continued possession of cultural objects by nonmembers or culturally distant institutions.

Cultural appropriation can often seem morally problematic. When the abstract schémas above are filled in with details from actual events, we often find misrepresentation, misuse, and theft of the stories, styles, and material heritage of people who have been historically dominated and remain socially marginalized. The actions of pop music artists such as Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea have also helped to usher the language of cultural appropriation into the popular lexicon. Yet cultural appropriation has received scant attention from philosophers. Moreover, there is a mismatch between the sentiments of some of the major philosophical writings on cultural appropriation and the concerns expressed by scholars and critics other disciplines.

Were alien anthropologists to focus on the operations performed on Bruce Reimer, they might assume that one’s identity as a human boy or girl, man or woman depends on one’s anatomy. If one has a penis, one is a boy or man and if one does not have one, one is a girl or woman. Since Bruce Reimer did not have a penis he could not be a boy. Yet, were the anthropologists then to look at psychological assessments of Brenda Reimer, they might come to think that one’s identity as a girl or boy also involves one’s interests and activities. Since Brenda did not have the correct interests and behavior, she could not be a girl. One must have not only the right anatomy but the right interests, desires, and behaviors as well. Since Bruce had the wrong anatomy for his interests and Brenda the wrong interests for her anatomy, alien anthropologists might assume that David eventually corrected the problem by manufacturing a penis.

‎Our living depends on our ability to conceptualize alternatives, often impoverished. Theorizing about this experience aesthetically, critically is an agenda for radical cultural practice. This space of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a ‘safe’ place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance. (hooks 1991:149)Distinct, irreconcilable understandings of space underscore the cultural mappings of the contemporary. For Jameson, space is a template, while for Soja, such a geometrical conception of space is passive, fixed, undialectical and no longer appropriate.For hooks, both these perspectives involve risks and dangers which are directly political; for those who have no place that can be safely called home, there must be a struggle for a place to be. Her evocation of the margins is simultaneously real and metaphorical—it defines an alternative spatiality: radical openness. A different sense of place is being theorized, no longer passive, no longer fixed, no longer undialectical—because disruptive features interrupt any tendency to see once more open space as the passive receptacle for any social process that cares to fill it—but, still, in a very real sense about location and locatedness. New spaces of resistance are being opened up, where our ‘place’ (in all its meanings) is considered fundamentally important to our perspective, our location in the world, and our right and ability to challenge dominant discourses of power. As a radical standpoint, perspective, position, ‘the politics of location’ necessarily calls those of us who would participate in the formation of counter-hegemonic cultural practice to identify the spaces where we begin the process of re-vision. (hooks 1991:145)Gendered and racialized performance often relies on decorating and/or making looks.

The donning of clothes and applying of cosmetics — and the taking off or removal of such coverings — offer apt tropes for code-switching and identity recognition, sometimes erring on the agentic, other times emphasizing structural determinism in suggesting the constructed nature of who we are, and too often stressing individual acts over collective protest.As fashion theorist Joanne Entwistle first claimed nearly twenty years ago, “dress is a ‘situated bodily practice’ aimed to bring the totality of the dressed body into social analysis.” Body work becomes beauty work, and beauty becomes a technique of distinction and control imbricated with power and generating knowledge.Fashion studies is hardly unique in having both an internal and external orientation in its analysis. But even scholars who trace the evolution of a style, such as Chinoise, or an object, like the head scarf, often explain the subject of their hermeneutic readings of influence, iconographic critique, or material culture design through historical, cultural, or economic frameworks.Dress may be about hegemonic norms, but there is also room for resistance. Echoing an earlier feminist debate over the danger and pleasure of sexuality, a force ever hovering even when unnamed in fashion studies, commentator Elizabeth Wilson once exclaimed, “Socially determined we may be, yet we consistently search for the crevices in culture that open to us moments of freedom.

‎‏Precisely because fashion is at one level a game (although it is not just a game), it can be played for pleasure.” We are what we wear. However, some of us have greater access to what we put on than others with fewer resources or under the discipline of restrictive rules or practices from parents, schools, sumptuary laws, and religious prohibitions. When the fit isn’t right, the mismatch exposes holes that crack the whole of dominant dress and fashion modes. Recent scholarship reflects changes in the fashion system: the rise of Asian American designers and spread of Asian chic, a designation that erases specific cultures under a generalizable Asianness; the presence of modest dress among Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, and Mormon women; the emergence of fashion blogging that propels an ever wanting of the new; and the growth of niche markets, including plus-size, sustainable, ethnic, and religious clothes.Drawing upon ethnography, political economy, history, visual and discourse analysis, and a wide range of social and cultural theorists, such as Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Foucault, Angela McRobbie, and Judith Butler, the monographs under review explore the paradox of fashion with verve and sophistication.They are as much about labor— self-fashioning, preparation work, and consumption as work— as they are about trending looks and this season’s clothes.

Despite what British critic Reina Lewis names “the imbrication of discourses of choice within the logic of neoliberal consumer capitalism” (321), new communities have emerged through style that challenge even as they reflect global power relations.Along the way, Lewis and these other authors de-exceptionalize fashion and the work necessary to produce its representations. Like other creative industries, the academy included, fashion relies on independent contractors and contingent labor; it generates a flexible, indeed, a precarious workforce, epitomizing the neoliberal moment.As sociologist Elizabeth Wissinger recognizes, the fashion business “normalizes calling on affective resources of loving one’s job, living your work as your life, embodying your work identity as yourself . . . that blend work and play in a manner that engenders anxiety about when the work will be for pay and when it will be for fun and whether one will get work at all”.The professional model is not alone in displaying clothes. Personal style bloggers snap outfit photos and then post them onto Instagram, Pinterest, and other digital platforms.Asian American studies media scholar Minh-Ha T. Pham, the cocreator of the Treadbared blog, interrogates the work such poses perform. Her focus on Asian “superbloggers” introduces the second section, the ways that Asians and Asian Americans fashionistas reveal not only global trends but the “circuits”— to use the image of Asian American studies professor Tuy Linh Nguyen Tu — between garment design and manufacturing.Tu stresses diasporic connections as well as the ways that “a family mode of production” (47) persists when an immigrant generation bequeaths skills of fabrication to “the beautiful generation” of designers that follows. Pham links “the new Asian digital creative class” to garment assemblers in China and throughout Asia at the end of the supply chain, “unwaged or underwaged” products of “a historically situated, racially gendered and classbased formation”.The search for order, the sense of digging behind the cultural facade to find the one true meaning of landscape is sometimes, explicitly or implicitly, prompted by a fear that if every individual reading of geographical form is equally true, then geographical analysis falls prey to cultural relativism—in other words, that anything goes. It is in this context that the work of Walter Benjamin can provide a useful counterpoint here; certainly his street tour is a long way from Zukin’s.In capturing the cities of Berlin and Paris in his writing, Benjamin creates, through disparate fragments of prose, a world that on first appearance is exclusively his own. And in aestheticizing the spaces of the city, he seems to go even further, turning prose into poetry.Well, yes and no. Because Benjamin does much more. As the exemplary flâneur, his work defines a sensibility that takes the specific to rise beyond the particular, prefiguring the urban readings of Barthes and de Certeau and the politics of situationism, he finds the universal through a street plan, humanity through his arcades.But Benjamin’s arcade is in no way a grid reference or a mere location. It is a way of life, a metaphoric allusion to a form of sensibility, a Proustian metonym, an invocation of a way of seeing, a nodal point in a field of vision that condenses sets of contradictory meanings. It is all of these things and more.And none of them is identical. Each is closely related to most of the others but each evokes a slightly different form of spatiality.

‎As Susan Sontag has commented on Benjamin’s work One Way Street, ‘reminiscences of self are reminiscences of a place, and how he positions himself in it, navigates around it’. We cannot read the street straightforwardly. Famously, ‘botanizing the asphalt’ as flâneur immersed in the urban experience; the whole work of Benjamin is about the intertwining of experience, knowledge and spatiality.Visible or invisible, Benjamin knows the city and the street through a vision that may not be corporeal and may not acknowledge the gendered character of his own gaze (see Pollock 1988) but most certainly celebrates the conflation of the sites of the urban and the sight of the city. Places are known through this sensibility, but places also, in turn, constitute the sentient individual.

As Sontag at one point suggests, the whole opus of Benjamin might be called A la recherche des éspaces perdues: ‘Benjamin is not trying to recover his past, but to understand it: to condense it into its spatial forms, its premonitory structures’ (Sontag 1979:13). In this sense, Benjamin’s work provides us with an excellent illustration of the complex relationship between spatialities and identity. Space too is ambiguous, ambivalent, multi-faceted, duplicitous (Daniels 1989). Reference to Benjamin is a useful reminder of the strictly licensed ‘novelty’ of a spatialized vocabulary of social theory. But, more significantly, his work throws light on the relation between identity and the spaces through which identity is both produced and expressed.The spaces of Benjamin’s Paris and Berlin are both real and metaphorical simultaneously. They are not just a personal view but then they are not the true representation of city society either. Too often used as a residual descriptive container which defines the empirical, these spatialities are instead to be understood as a constitutive element of the social.Neither are these spaces ethically rudderless. Politically, it should not be forgotten that Benjamin’s work provides the literary provenance for Theodor Adorno’s powerful analysis of the interaction of the epistemological and the aesthetic.‎