dmp: Taking a stroll in my finery (Default)
This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

Kicking off my crazy February schedule, this week is Beyond Victoriana's small contribution toward Black History Month.  In the United States and Canada, this is celebrated in February, but in England, this month is in October, so I guess I'm giving away my biases a bit, eh?  Now, a linkspam about African/African-American history would be easy to do. And there are many great black figures who lived during the Victorian Era who should be mentioned right now.

But instead, I'll review an interesting book about a view of black history that I don't hear about as often: a series of essays about the lives of both extraordinary and everyday Black Brits in Victorian England called Black Victorians/Black Victoriana, edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina.

Book Description:

Black Victorians/Black Victoriana is a welcome attempt to correct the historical record. Although scholarship has given us a clear view of nineteenth-century imperialism, colonialism, and later immigration from the colonies, there has for far too long been a gap in our understanding of the lives of blacks in Victorian England. Without that understanding, it remains impossible to assess adequately the state of the black population in Britain today. Using a transatlantic lens, the contributors to this book restore black Victorians to the British national picture. They look not just at the ways blacks were represented in popular culture but also at their lives as they experienced them-as workers, travelers, lecturers, performers, and professionals. Dozens of period photographs bring these stories alive and literally give a face to the individual stories the book tells.

The essays taken as a whole also highlight prevailing Victorian attitudes toward race by focusing on the ways in which empire building spawned a "subculture of blackness" consisting of caricature, exhibition, representation, and scientific racism absorbed by society at large. This misrepresentation made it difficult to be both black and British while at the same time it helped to construct British identity as a whole. Covering many topics that detail the life of blacks during this period, Black Victorians/Black Victoriana will be a landmark contribution to the emergent field of black history in England.

Also check out her book Black London as well.

My Review:
The essays in Black Victorians/Black Victoriana are varied and fascinating, ranging from the everyday lives of African Brits to the portrayal of blackness by the British, and, in turn, how the British defined themselves by their whiteness. The topics of these essays are divided into three general areas: the black experience in Britain, the interaction between Africans, African-Americans, British, and African-Brits, and representations of being black in Victorian culture. I enjoyed the essays that focused on aspects of the black experience--nevermind Victorian-- that I had never even considered before. Joan Anim-Addo's "Queen Victoria's 'Black Daughter', examines the life and circumstances surrounding Sally Bonetta Forbes, a young orphaned West African child whom the King of Dohomey presents to Queen Victoria as a "gift" in 1850. Sally was the first of a long line of Empire adoptees who entered the Queen's household as "properties of the crown" and were raised as the Queen's proteges. Other interesting essays included about the black experience is a profile on Pablo Fanque, a black circus proprietor who ran the most successful circus in England for 30 years, and the biracial classical composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The conclusions each of these essays make about race relations during Victorian England vary, even contradict each other. Fanque, for instance, is widely respected and defended by the general public as a performer, and Coleridge-Taylor's historical biographers skid more about his white mother's illegitimate parentage and servant class than his Nigerian father's background. On the other hand, other pieces such as "Mrs. Seacole's Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands and the Consciousness of Transit" (titled after her memoir of the same name), focuses on the prejudice the Crimean War heroine and nurse Mary Seacole faced from the British medical establishment --and from Florence Nightingale's all-white company of nurses--when on the front lines. And the essay "The Blackface Clown" explains the roots of blackface in England, framed around the concept of "blackness" as the racial Other onto which white Brits transposed everything they considered "unBritish."

The most interesting essay in the collection is Neil Parsons' "No Longer Rare Birds in London," a record about the travels of four different African envoys to England. Representatives from these African kingdoms visited England in order to petition for various reasons, from protesting British occupation to appealing for protection against other European powers. Parsons gives a detailed itinerary account of what each group experienced. Some incidents during their journey were very telling of the conflicting views of black and Africans in Victorian England. For instance, when King Cetshwayo of the Zulu visited in 1882, he was whisked away in a special train because the colonial ministers didn't want the public--who were only familiar with "Zulu warriors" as depicted by mostly African and African-American circus performers and from the news of the crushing British defeat by the Zulu nation in 1879--"to make a spectacle of him." The king, however, was unexpectedly received by cheering crowds and enjoyed being recognized in the streets as the leader of the battle. The envoys reactions to England are also intriguing. Many compared the packed urban sprawl of London to locusts and the Ndebele envoys remarked how the British "worshiped the god of money while they spoke of the God of Love" and how "the hands of the European never tire of making things. It is for this reason that white men's faces are often so fatigued and sad. They wage war with each other not for virile glory or to test their strength, but for things."

Overall, a fascinating book and highly recommended for scholars and history buffs alike.

***

Another treasure came at the suggestion of Miriavas from the Steampunk Empire: Okinawa Soba's collection of nineteenth-century photos. He features three collections portraying different perspectives on the black experience during this time period.  Below is a sampling from each collection, but I encourage you to go through his galleries yourself.

Click here for the pics )
dmp: Taking a stroll in my finery (Default)
This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there. While gathering materials and suggestions for things to feature on Beyond Victoriana, fellow steampunks offered quite a few delicious tidbits that were interesting reads and looks, but not quite enough for a full post. So here are some Odds & Ends from the aethernets and elsewhere for you to enjoy---

The Reads:

The Effluent Engine, part of A Story for Haiti project
N.J. Jeminsin (author of One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms) wrote this steampunk tale about pirates set in New Orleans, originally for a lesbian steampunk anthology. Enjoy reading it, but better yet donate, donate, donate.

Pimp My Airship
Another entertaining read featuring African steampunk by Maurice Broaddus.

Distant Deeps or Skies
This just in today -- Mexican steampunk story by Silvia Moreno-Garcia that's featured in Expanded Horizons magazine.

Moon Maiden's Mirror
An evocative steamy fairytale in an Asian setting, written by Joyce Chng as part of Semaphore Magazine. Link goes to PDF of the September 2009 issue.

Steampunk: A Mobile Device Concept for Rural India
The technology blog Adaptive Path wrote an interesting article about how engineers use concepts of steampunk technology to design mobile cell phones in India.


The Pics:



Frist mentioned by Jess Nevins (you may know him as the editor for the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana) on the speculative blog community No Fear of the Future, about Lu Shi'e's Xin Ye Sou Pu Yan (1909), with the following blurb:

"In this tale, Europe is a Chinese colony and it describes the Chinese government’s suppression of an uprising planned by European "restoration" rebels. The Chinese Emperor orders the generalissimo in charge of Europe, Wen Suchen, to suppress the rebellion with flying warships. Generalissimo Wen not only conquers all seventy-two European nations but continues on to the moon and Jupiter as well. The most marvellous part of this tale is that Jupiter is described as being covered completely with gold and abounding with flora and fauna–the perfect destination for migration. Wen is then appointed Governor of Jupiter. From then on, the means of communication and transportation between Earth and Jupiter is, naturally, by flying ship."




Sent in from Professor Von Explaino in Australia:

"Found this picture in a holiday home my wife and I were staying in and thought it would be something you'd like or have a use for.  The tattoos definitely seem Maori."




"Punk Tribe" by 343GuiltySpark

And, as always, any suggestions for this blog are welcome! Drop me a link on the announcement page or send me a email. ^-^

dmp: Taking a stroll in my finery (Default)
This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there. (Note: I've already mentioned him on this site once before when his work came to NYC, but he's been a personal inspiration for my creative approach to steampunk and more people should know about him!)

Yinka Shonibare, MBE, a self-described “bicultural” artist, was born in England but raised in both England and Nigeria. He is best known for his series of art pieces where coffee-colored mannequins are outfitted in eighteenth-century clothing made from brightly designed “African” fabrics.


Image courtesy of yinka-shonibare.co.uk


Image courtesy of yinka-shonibare.co.uk


I put “African” in quotes because the fabrics that Shonibare uses are not made in Africa at all, but are Dutch wax-printed fabrics he purchased in Brixton Market in London. When he found out the origin of these fabrics on a shopping trip, they inspired him in creating this project.

“But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think,” says Shonibare in an interview. “They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture—it’s an artificial construct.” (Quote from interview by Pernilla Holmes, Art News Online, October 2002)

Read more below )
dmp: Taking a stroll in my finery (Default)
A blatant plug for an interesting article about British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, whose work is currently on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. Though it's not steampunk per say, he's doing what I'm aiming for in my steampunk expression--



Headless Bodies From a Bottomless Imagination

Excerpt from the article talking about Mr. Shonibare, years in art school and his tutor's suggestion that his work be more "African"--

[Mr. Shonibare]: “I should have actually understood all along that there is a way in which one is perceived, and there’s no getting away from it. And I realized that if I didn’t deal with it, I would just be described forever as a black artist who doesn’t make work about being black.”

Right then, Mr. Shonibare said, he found his artistic raison d’être. “I realized what I’d really have to deal with was the construction of stereotypes, and that’s what my work would be about.”

In search of authentic African-ness Mr. Shonibare visited an African fabric shop in the Brixton market in South London, discovering, to his amazement, that the best African fabric was actually manufactured in the Netherlands and exported to Africa. Further, the Dutch wax prints, as they are known, were originally inspired by Javanese batiks.

This idea, that a fabric connoting African identity was not really African, delighted the budding conceptual artist. “The material was the idea,” he said. From that point forward the African fabric was his medium and his message.

He used it first as his canvas — stretching the prints, then painting on them — and later to make his costumes, which are usually Victorian, the Victorian era being the period of British history when Africa was colonized, thus providing him not only with ruffles and bustles but also with what he called the “lovely irony” of contrasting fabric and style.

“My tutor wanted me to be pure African,” Mr. Shonibare said “I wanted to show I live in a world which is vast and take in other influences, in the way that any white artist has been able to do for centuries.”




December 2012

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