Saturday, March 31, 2007
Dressing And Our Culture
By: ISAAC M. QUIST
LAST week, we tested some ideas about traditions, neo-traditions and crossovers into “Western Culture”.
Whatever is western is admittedly universal especially in the Christian world.
It is also quite clear that universal human values, and needs exist. Culture comes in only when geographical conditions determine how certain needs are met by certain human groups.
For instance, one needs a footwear to protect one’s feet. But the type and nature of footwear comes first from available materials in a place.
In cold regions, a full shoe may be necessary for the greater part and in the tropics a half shoe may be worn often. The type of hyde and technology available in that area also comes in. Today synthetic leather is common and cheap but the rich can afford expensive shoes from rare, quality leather. Aesthetics and taste come after function in many arts.
Aesthetics mean rules or standards of beauty. These are often universal and can also be cultural. They can also take on the personal or individualistic taste.
The words “sophisticated” and “complicated” are often misused these days.
In Europe, the type of people who attend Beethoven’s concerts, Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas, or Martha Graham’s type of ballet sessions are said to be sophisticated or well-cultured.
The Mavericks or Bohemians are those who love the Debussys Bartok’s and John Cages. The Sophisticated people above are usually artistes themselves or rich, highly educated persons coming from certain quarters or families.
Among the most troublesome artists of the 19th Century was Oscar Wilde but he was also described as “the best dressed gentleman in England”, just like Sir Mick Jaggar, the English King of Rock who wears T-Shirt and Jeans on stage, something that fits his music and audience as realistic, yet off-stage he is the best dressed gentleman in England.
What of Madonna, a fashion queen, a sex symbol and a feminist. Our artists dress badly. “Complicated”, however, means “entangled” or “obscure” and usually hi-tech.
The English call foreign art from the continent – the French, Spanish and Italian Art as ‘romantic’. A term which was to be extended to artists who were influenced by the African Diaspora.
The 1920s were called the Jazz Age or the period of the Cult of the Primitive in America.
Later, a Gothic Revival (Gothic means Old German or Goth for uncivilized) returned a similar age called Post-Modernism or neo-avant garde but this was western in spite of its similitude with African art.
Even today’s rock culture includes a strong Black representation coming from undercurrents across the Atlantic from America into Europe.
What do we make of this as Africans if at one time we see ourselves in the Western culture and at other times we are total aliens?
Cultural identity comes from the geography (availability and technology – skills and equipment) more in keeping with our sense of pride as a people. Fashion maintains all these but is hinged to periods and change. The personal taste of the individual, his status and wealth also come into play.
In today’s Europe, mass-produced clothing are set against couture designer wears which appear custom made and sold in boutiques. Even sports wear like canvas shoes and caps come and go and can be very expensive during in-season.
Fashion has to do with fabrics, designs of cloth and design of apparels and, above all, colours.
Colours are warm or cool and may have universal symbolisms or cultural implications for some people.
As for the art that go into the design on the cloth or into the clothing, like all the visual arts, one looks for geometrical lines and curves or shapes like circles, triangles, etc.
When people lack a basic knowledge to understand art, they cherish the slapstick or phallic – the ‘abuskeless’ ‘see – throughs’ which reveal the sexual especially.
Everybody in Ghana wants to be a doctor or lawyer, engineer or pilot, for lack of knowledge. But see how we can turn life around if we respect other professions and are willing to pay fittingly for their services.
We can now re-order our neo-traditions of we understand “who we are”, except of course, we are sure of our basics as above.
THE SPECTATOR - Saturday, March 31, 2007. Page: 16