TAASA Review issues
The Healer from The Healer, The Feeder, The Warrior (detail) 2003, Mella Jaarsma, costume made of Chinese and Indonesian traditional medicines, worn by Elly Kent, component curated by Christine Clark at Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 2003. Photo © Mella Jaarsma.
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Marianne Hulsbosch, Guest Editor
Decorating the human body is as old as time. What is worn or inscribed onto our body is much more than mere protection or decoration, because by adorning ourselves we also create a distinct identity - a fluid entity that acquires new meanings in different contexts. Body decoration can be a source of power when correct prescriptions are followed or rules broken. The meaning and value of personal and group identity is culture-specific, often unspoken, but fully understood within a given tradition.
This dedicated issue, based on TAASA’s 2022 Monday night lecture series, explores various ways in which a body has and can be decorated. One form of decoration is radical manipulation, such as mutilation or scarification. Semi-permanent methods are body piercing and tattooing, whilst more benign examples are dressing, applying makeup, teeth and skin whitening and so on. However the most uncompromising method of manipulating a body is to actually scalp or decapitate it. What better way to start this issue than with an exploration of the Alifuru headhunting tribe of Eastern Indonesia, investigating how they considered a body as an object to be hunted and how they viewed their own body as a repository to decorate in ways which signal prowess and status.
The most common way a body can be ornamented is with dress and accessories, a sophisticated method of sending unambiguous messages about the self. Body decoration may vary in time and place, but the outcome is always the same: we create a distinct identity which is always mediated by context. Toby Slade’s article explores these ideas by examining the way in which the Samurai warrior’s stunning armor changed over time to reflect his transformation from revered combatant to aesthete. Losing relevance as a fighter in the peaceful Edo period in Japan, the Samurai became a connoisseur who asserted aristocratic superiority through cultivating a self-structured identity with material beauty and elegance.
Mariah Waworuntu examines how, throughout the Indonesian archipelago, ceremonial traditions and baby carriers, amulets, dress items and specific hairstyles were employed to ensure safety from evil spirits and gain overall protection for the body and souls of newborn children.
Pattaratorn Chirapravati explores how two very stylish Thai Queen regents promoted political agendas and influenced national identity through their sartorial choices. Both proved to be an instant local and international hit and have given rise to a successful textile industry encouraged and promoted through combining historic Thai court dress elements with Western tailoring.
Shih Ying Lim’s article traces the evolution of women’s clothing in postwar era Taiwan. She considers the way this was used to promote political agendas, for example how work uniforms were used as a form of social control during the 1960s.
Pointing out that men’s dress has been much less studied and collected than women’s, Peter McNeil looks at the way in which Indian cottons in particular were incorporated into men’s fashions in Europe and elsewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries. He shows this take up to be influenced by complex interactions of trade, social and economic factors.
The artworks of Mella Jaarsma directly challenge Western notions of colonialism, multiracial relationships and local culture; she uses decorated bodies to make her point. Elly Kent was a participant in creating and performing Jaarsma’s work and describes not only the artist’s intent but also how she experienced this involvement at a physical and emotional level.
A less-confronting way of presenting an identity is through everyday portraiture. Gael Newton allows us a peek into a personal collection of late 19th to early 20th century Japanese domestic studio portraits. Simultaneously subject and object, the sitters carefully constructed their identities in front of the camera through dress and demeanor, no doubt with the assistance of the photographer. These were images not for public consumption but for personal use. This collection allows us to witness social change at the most intimate human level through domestic, everyday portraiture.
And to finish, Jackie Menzies and Ross Langlands present some favourite items related to the theme of this issue. Ross reviews a book on the fabulous Indonesian textile collection of Thomas Murray: a hefty and richly illustrated tome with insightful articles written by noted scholars. Jackie presents us with a 19th century tryptich, perhaps the ultimate image of a sophisticated, multicultural society in Yokohama in the early 1860s. However, on closer inspection not all appears as one expects. It is a most suitable image to dissect and to conclude this special edition on the decorated body, as the identities here are constructed and fanciful, rather than real.
Table of contents
3 EDITORIAL: THE DECORATED BODY - Marianne Hulsbosch, Guest Editor
4 DEDICATED FOLLOWERS OF FASHION - Marianne Hulsbosch
7 ANACHRONISTIC MASCULINITY: SAMURAI ARMOUR AND THE DANDYISM OF THE LATE EDO PERIOD - Toby Slade
10 TRADITIONAL CHILDHOOD PRACTICES IN THE INDONESIAN ARCHIPELAGO - Mariah Waworuntu
13 THE STYLIST REGENTS: REFASHIONING ROYAL THAI FEMALE SARTORIAL STYLES - Pattaratorn Chirapravati
16 COOL MEN: THE ALLURE OF INDIAN COTTONS - Peter McNeil
19 CLOAKED IDENTITY: MELLA JAARSMA’S THE HEALER, THE FEEDER, THE WARRIOR - Elly Kent
20 REFLECTING SOCIAL CHANGE: WOMEN’S CLOTHING IN POSTWAR TAIWAN - Shih Ying Lin
22 A MODERN SELF: LATE 19TH AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY JAPANESE VERNACULAR STUDIO PORTRAITS - Gael Newton
24 COLLECTOR’S CHOICE: A YOKOHAMA TRYPTICH, DEPICTING THE UNFAMILIAR - Jackie Menzies
25 BOOK REVIEW: TEXTILES OF INDONESIA: THE THOMAS MURRAY COLLECTION - Ross Langlands
26 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES
28 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER 202
30 WHAT’S ON: SEPTEMBER - NOVEMBER 2022