Archive for Politics

Cindy McCain & The Lime-Green Dress

Posted in Fashion, Liz Hager, Politics with tags , , , on September 7, 2008 by Liz Hager

    

(photos above ©AP; below © Charles Rex Abrogast/AP)

I guess the Republican handlers hadn’t learned from their last color mistake, because there was Cindy McCain on Night 2 of the convention sporting a seriously retro-styled dress in the dreaded lime-green hue. It’s hard to tell from the various photos available, but the TV coverage captured the dress from all angles. No doubt about it, this was a 60s dress. Not a modern update, though, just a copy. Not even an early-60s-Jackie-sharp woman-of-the-world dress. For those of us old enough to have lived through the era,  Cindy’s fashion statement—the lime-green dress, the bleached-blond, cotton-candy hair, big pearls, and little “diamond” broach—was a creepy echo of that special breed of mid-60s woman—the up-market suburban, stay-at-home, pool-lounging, “key partying,” trophy wife. 

As Cindy McCain gazed rapturously from the box-seats, I thought a very scary message indeed beamed out across America.  Cindy is accomplished in her own right. As candidate for “First Lady,” she could have made any number of statements about the important roles women will need to continue to play on the world stage.  Instead, her choice of fashion allied her to the underutilized, disengaged and bored women of some 40 years ago. It’s an outdated icon we can’t afford to reference in a world that desperately needs every mind engaged. But perhaps understandable for a party with a 72-year-old white man at its summit. When Cindy cradled little baby Trig in her arms during the evening, the Republican message was complete—a good wife is a Stepford wife. 

Political Fashion links

Dressed for Power

First Ladies and the Fabric of the Nation

Inaugural Fashion

Sarah Palin Carries a Big (Hockey) Stick

Posted in Liz Hager, People & Places, Politics with tags , , , on September 4, 2008 by Liz Hager

©2008 Jim Wilson/NY Times

I sent out an email yesterday in connection with my participation in Part 2 of the “Banned & Recovered: Artists Respond to Censorship”, noting that censorship was still a relevant & topical issue in our democratic union.  The connection was prompted by a NY Times article that morning on Sarah Palin— “Palin’s Start in Alaska: Not Politics as Usual,” — which included this tidbit:

“. . . Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. ‘They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,’ Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to ‘resist all efforts at censorship,’ Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article. . . “

I received scads more responses in connection to the Palin part of that email than to the announcement of the show. I am chastened—subdued—for the moment, anyway. I heard your message—politics more urgent than art. So, with that in mind, I start today with a few posts on an artist’s view of the Republican Convention.

Coffin Blood—Look Down!:IWP, SF #12

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Graffiti, Liz Hager with tags , on September 1, 2008 by Liz Hager

©2008 Liz Hager

Date: 09/01/08

Time: 12:01

Location: Fillmore, between Waller & Haight, East pavement

“Indispensable Wisdom on the Pavement”:  The second ideogram stumped me, but I guess it represents a drop of blood. Literally, this reads a drop of blood for a drop of oil, but more poetically “the blood of humans (soldiers) for a gallon of gas.”

What’s in a Vowel? Why We Should Care about Huns and Hans in Western China

Posted in Central Asia, Liz Hager, People & Places, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Liz Hager

Uighur silk textile fragment, Xinjiang, 10th-11th century (photo courtesy One Central Asia)

In hosting the Olympic Games, China has once again opened the proverbial kimono for inspection by the outside world, offering us a rare opportunity to gain insight into a country in the process of becoming a dominant world power. Harmony is an ancient component of the Chinese identity. Paradoxically, separatist conflict percolates throughout present-day China.

The Chinese “occupation” of Tibet has been well publicized for years, in part because the Dali Lama is able to travel and educate the world. Another, less publicized, ethnic conflict pits the minority Uighurs (pr: WEE-ger) against the majority Han Chinese in the far western province of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the Uighur’s historic homeland. The conflict has simmered for centuries. It became an international news item in the beginning of August, when 16 Chinese paramilitary police officers were killed in Kashgar, alledgely by Uighur “terrorists” under the supervision of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).  A string of “incidents” have been reported since then; many say the Chinese government is inflating the group’s importance, as an excuse to tighten control over the beleaguered peoples. 

Why should those of us who live half a world away care about the Uighurs, a poor and historically nomadic people? Their beautiful textile tradition is reason enough for me, the artist. The map below suggests a more compelling reason for the rest of us.

Xinjiang sits in already volatile region, which includes the sovereign nations of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan; Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia. The well-documented conflict over Kashmir rages still after 50 years, the danger to the world heightened by Indian and Pakistani nuclear capabilities.  In Afghanistan, each superpower in turn has painfully relearned the difficulties of containment in a land of porous borders.  As part of the ancient Turkic (i.e. Hun) tribes that migrated over centuries from Mongolia to Central Asia, the Uighurs spill over Xinjiang into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We should know from history that tribal loyalties and animosities do not necessarily respect artificially-drawn national borders, so a conflict in Xinjiang eventually ripples outward.

Further, the march to modernization in this area necessitates that all these countries meld numerous tribal identities (not to mention Russians and Chinese) into singular national identities. Tricky business in places where tribal loyalties die slowly. Forcing “harmony,” while disenfranchising the native population, is certainly flirting with danger.

Xinjiang is an energy paradise—lots of sun, wind and, yes, oil. Something on the order of 60% of the province’s GNP is derived from oil and natural gas production. And this of course is the reason the rest of the world should really care about the Huns and the Hans in Western China.   

Need more?

Textiles in Oil Rich Countries

Analysis: August Incidents in Xinjiang

Der Spiegel on events in Xinjiang

Tarim Mummies

Fantastic grassland in Xinjiang province

Short history of the Huns

Uighurs—A Dying Race

High Noon in China’s Far West

Tomorrow’s Headlines?: Oil & Textiles in Daghestan

Posted in Book Review, Central Asia, Embroidery, Folk & Tribal Art, Liz Hager, Words & Symbols with tags , , , , , , on July 3, 2008 by Liz Hager

Kaitag Embroidery, Daghestan, 18th century, silk thread on cotton (photo courtesy Mehmet Çetinkaya Gallery)

I’m on a Central Asia kick these days and reading some first-rate contemporary “travel” writers who follow in the great 19th-century tradition of Westerners to the East.  Last month, I dove into another of Robert Kaplan’s always-rewarding books; his latest, Eastward to Tartary (Tartary being the Victorian identification of the Turkic lands east of the Caspian to the River Oxus, now the Amu Darya, and the longest river in Central Asia). It’s limiting to categorize Kaplan as a travel writer.   His insightful “reporting” on a variety of current events provoked by his travels belies the incredible historical and political education one gets as his reader.

On the surface, Tartary is the account of Kaplan’s 1998 journey throughthe many lands of the  Byzantium and, later, the Ottoman Empire. We know them as the former Soviet bloc countries—e.g. Hungary, Bulgaria, etc.—and Central Asian republics (the “stans”), as well as Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Levant (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel).  The book is anything but superficial. It is an eye-opening discourse on potential flashpoints across the region, where tribal peoples struggle to modernize into nation-states in the face of ancient animosities and a deficit of leadership. Until recently these places received little attention, but given their natural resources (we’re talking oil & gas here), their future might be, as Kaplan notes, “tomorrow’s news.”   This prescient observation, noted while the author was in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, is worth quoting in its entirety:

“From what I learned over the next two weeks, I was left with the queasy apprehension that what Vietnam was to the 1960s and 1970s, what Lebanon and Afghanistan were to the 1980s, and what the Balkans were to the 1990s, the Caspian region might be to the first decade of the new century; an explosive region that draws in the Great Powers.” 

And this statement near the end of the book had me rechecking the copyright on the book (it is 2000); to my mind it couldn’t have summed up our problem in Iraq any better:

“While there is no hatred so ingrained that it cannot be sedated by prosperity (as Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal once told me), the building of a middle class from a nation of peasants requires strong and wily leadership more than it may require elections.”

So, what does all of this have to do with embroidered panels from Daghestan? Maybe nothing or maybe a lot.

Daghestan is one of the former Soviet republics; now part of the Russian Federation. It sits on the Caspian Sea just north of Azerbaijan and east of Chechnya. It’s a mountainous country with southern flatlands but like a lot of its “stan” cousins, it’s extremely arid. Crops can only be cultivated through irrigation; thus, prior to the modern era, like most of the other Central Asian countries, Daghestan was populated principally by nomadic tribes, who mostly raised livestock. As was true of tribal peoples in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, the Daghestani ethnicities developed their own textile traditions. The Kaitegs (sometimes referred to as Kaytaks) were among the most prominent of tribes and it is their brightly-colored embroideries with anthropomorphic and primal shapes that gained favor among collectors in the West. Unlike the Uzbeki pieces, Kaitags use the embroideries only for ritual occasions—birth, marriage, death.

Based on the country’s strategic location, one can imagine that ethnically diverse peoples tramped through Daghestan; thus similaries in the embroidery can be drawn to the traditions of Persia, China, Turkey.

These beautiful works are in their own contradictory way both serene and fiercely alive. They belie the fact that post-break up Daghestan has had its fair share of troubles. It too struggles in ways not unlike the countries Kaplan visited. (For more detail, I refer you to the linkages below.)

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Daghestan has rich reserves of oil and natural gas.

Kaitag Embroidery, East Caucasus, 18th Century, silk threads on cotton ground (photo courtesy Sotheby’s).

Kaitag Resources:

J. Barry O’Connell spongobongo.com

Kaitag: Textile Art from Daghestan

Daghestan Resources:

Central Asia-Caucus Institute

All Academic

The Jamestown Foundation

 

Part II to follow: my thoughts on Colin Thubron’s Lost Heart of Asia.

Obama Bling-Bling

Posted in Jewelry, Liz Hager, Politics with tags , , , on June 19, 2008 by Liz Hager

My very own set of Obama bling-bling

Our friend Alison was sporting a set of these twinkly bands one night. I oo’ed and ah’ed; after all, what magpie can resist a shiny, sparkly thing? She proudly referred to her Obama bling, but I thought, since there were two, that “Obama bling-bling” was more appropriate terminology. While the bling-bling flashed away through the evening, I marveled at its many layers of meaning.  First there is the message itself, a simple proclamation of support. Of course this kind of message is bound to be a surprise to anyone who inspects this glittery pair more closely—one doesn’t expect necessarily a message of this sort in “diamonds.”  Perhaps they are a contemporary twist on the popular 60s-era ID bracelets?  (I admit I sported ONE of those for a brief period.) The bracelets are also a daily reminder of an important event on our nation’s calendar. Further,  by wearing them on your right wrist and engaging in a friendly handshake, you might be passing along karmic goodwill (or possibly consternation, if shaking with supporters of other candidates). Would all of us wearing Obama bling-bling automatically greet each other with fist bumps?

What about the “rocks” themselves? To my mind, a more elegant statement than the somewhat pedestrian campaign button.  In one sense, they play off the media’s obsession with Obama as an “elite” candidate. Does the fact that they are fake, meant to simulate real, indicate the wearer’s public acknowledgment of a similar belief about the candidate? On the other hand, rhinestones are affordable by the masses, so in this economy appropriate material for candidate jewelry I think.  They certainly are versatile—elegant enough to pass muster at a fancy (fundraising?) event and yet, these “downmarket” rhinestones are not too ostentatious to sport as everyday wear. 

Dinner finished and Alison left with the Obamawear.  My life was a bit empty until yesterday, when much to my surprise my very own set of Obama bling-bling arrived in the mail, courtesy of my husband. I have a feeling I’ll be wearing these for a good long time.  Come to think of it,  they might be the perfect accessory for a certain celebration in January…

For your own set of Obama bling-bling, contact Carol Vena-Mondt at venamondt@gmail.com (sorry no linkage, so you’ll have to cut & paste). Bracelets are $36. for the pair, which also includes tax and s&h. Carol is donating all net proceeds to the Obama Campaign. 

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