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 MA'A* Cultural Innovation Editor | | N°39 JUNE 2020 the new destination for discoverers defending the best of Art, Architecture and Design
in order to reinvent your contemporary lifestyle
Cyber-cosmetics | Film for Aesop | Lucy McRae©
For more information on an article, click on the corresponding images
Dazed mask | Transparent acrylic sheets | Iris van Herpen©
Walter Van Beirendonck | Maghali©




While lockdown is ending, we rejoin the others in a transformed social space. The world has changed and so has the very idea of what "covers" us or not. This is why CULTURAMA N°39 focuses on the notion of "the envelope", with the following question: how to reevaluate what we wear and what wears us?

Converting snorkelling masks into emergency ventilators | Décathlon©
Endless Echo Hat | 3D-prints of the artist's face | Heidi Lee©
Wearing a mask reveals, in this unprecedented health crisis, our vulnerability. Clothing, if not an indicator of our inner selves, can be a timestamp to this extraordinary phenomenon. One's envelope, whether it is an image or self-expression, refers to the body and therefore to identity.

"Our body is the envelope of the soul, which, on its side, is the guardian and protector."
Ritual mask | French colonial collection | Renaud Vanuxem gallery©
Social mask | Daysideria©
From tribal masks to kimonos, clothing also reveals a supernatural power. At a time of uncertain deconfinement, as we add layers to our face to protect us from the outside, we suggest that you revisit the theme of the envelope to see the present events differently. First, we will revisit an ancestral Asian tradition, the kimono, which is interestingly reappropriated by younger generations. Then, we will present amazing organdy sculptures which evoke an immaterial envelope, made of transparent whiteness and light.
Dress differently because of coronavirus
Sono Fukunishi
Two Japanese women in kimonos weave silk | Photographic print | 1875 | Baron Raimund von Stillfried©

Eric of CULTURAMA: Last year, you opposed Kim Kardashian and the name of her new underwear brand Kimono. After some months of contention, your petition and the tag #KimOhNo bore fruit, and Kim changed the name to SKIMS. What was your first impression when you heard Kim's brand would be named that way?

Sono Fukunishi: At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I never imagined someone would dare to commercially use such a culturally important word. I checked the articles and her instagram post; indeed, it was not a bad dream.

Comptoir de Kimono | Sono Fukunishi, elegant even during post-lockdown
If an influencer with an audience like hers uses the exact word kimono in such context, it will modify this word’s meaning in the long term. For example, nowadays, if you google Amazon, the first thing you find is not related to rainforest regions in northwestern Brazil, but the online retailer. The kimono industry has already been struggling for survival, because the fabrication of real traditional kimonos in Japan has decreased since 1990. So if Kim took the name away, it would be the end of the word and associated culture as we know it, at least in the cyber-world.
Aki Kuroda's workshop | Aki Kuroda©
Textile details | Comptoir de Kimono©

Eric: Could you describe how to make a kimono and the history behind it?

Sono: The original technique was developed during the Heian period, between 794-1192. Known as the straight-line-cut method, it involved cutting pieces of fabric in straight lines and sewing them together. This allowed kimono makers not to take into account the shape of the wearer's body. Straight-line-cut kimonos offered many advantages. They were easy to fold. They were also suitable for all types of weather, as they could be worn in layers to provide warmth in winter, and for summer, the breathable fabric, such as linen, guaranteed comfort. Japanese seasons are very pronounced, summer is really hot and winter is very cold, so these advantages helped kimonos become a part of Japanese people's everyday lives.

Textile details | Comptoir de Kimono©
Y. Yeatman-Eiffel, S. Fukunishi, O. Kuroi & S. Satok at the Palais Garnier | François Lollichon©

Over time, as the practice of wearing kimonos in layers came into fashion for the governing classes, new extravagant styles emerged, such junihitoe which means "twelve layers". Many competed to have more layers, adding different colours to each of them. There is even a story of a woman who tried 30 layers and could not move under the weight. In comparison, the modern female robe, used nowadays for special occasions like weddings, has 5 layers and weighs more than 20 kg. 

Over time, the Japanese began to pay attention to the way different-coloured kimonos looked together, developing a heightened sensitivity to colour, their combinations, and the symbolism that each colour holds. Up until the mid 19th century, Kimono was the form of dress worn by everyone in Japan.

This slowly changed with the import of suits and other western clothing. During the 20th century, as the kimono became an occasional item to wear at weddings or other formal events, many didn’t really know how to put on the kimono and tie the obi belt: a complicated procedure that goes beyond the ability of many young women and that requires a course at a kimono school. The young generation strives for new and different looks, searching for their identities. Especially in Harajuku, Tokyo, where the relatively large disposable income, available to youth living at home with their parents, reduces living expenses and allows for diversity in avant-garde styles. The 90s generation was good at mix-and-matching. The street became their stage. They competed with each other, creating more and more grotesque and original styles.

Street fashion in Harajuku |©
Street fashion in Harajuku |©

Eric: If we think about it, traditional Japanese clothing is quite popular in Europe and the USA. Why, in your opinion?

Sono: Firstly, after Japan was forcibly opened to large-scale international trade in the early 1850s, a fever spread across Europe for items from this exotic country: its textiles, ceramics, paper fans, woodblock prints and more. Meanwhile, the term Japanism was coined to describe works made in Europe and the USA that incorporated motifs and aesthetic principles from the fresh new imagery that adorned such imported goods. The success of the Hokusai exhibition at the Grand Palais, with 357 217 visitors in 2015, demonstrates the continued fascination for Japanese art.
This interest in Japanese art and fashion reached Western pop-culture in the 1970s.

David Bowie himself sought out
Kansai Yamamoto, the prominent Japanese kimono designer, who came to Paris to create the costumes for Bowie’s Aladdin Sane tour in 1973, resulting in a series of now-iconic pieces, like a short satin kimono, or a one-legged knit bodysuit which was influenced by the layers of kimono textiles. In her essay for the recently published anthology David Bowie: Critical Perspectives, fashion historian Helene Thian writes that Bowie’s trendsetting choice to display his appreciation for Japanese fashion signified a newly formed bond between the East and the West. In the 1970s, Japan was still viewed as the Other by much of Europe and North America, "a former World War II enemy". Bowie, as the androgynous alien Ziggy Stardust, highlighted and dramatized costumes born from the alien culture of Japan.
As a result, it is not difficult to find the kimono-inspired motifs and shapes — like the kimono sleeves — during fashion shows.

David Bowie dressed by Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto©
Dress by Kansai Yamamoto©

Eric: Between economical and cultural factors, at what point would we call this artistic usage a cultural appropriation?

Sono: The line between appropriation and inspiration is thin. Cultural appropriation refers to the unjust exploitation or plagiarism of a minority culture. On a larger scope, culture mixes new elements with old ones and makes them evolve in synergy. The concept of appropriation does not criticize such cultural crossing, but rather a very specific phenomenon, that of utilization of the colonized local cultural elements without respect for their historical background or context. The controversy around cultural appropriation is very much a 21
st-century conundrum, especially in the US and Europe. Edward Said argued, in his seminal book Orientalism, that the West’s patronizing view of the East is based on stereotypes and fantasy. These debates have gone mainstream, surfacing regularly on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, orientalism influenced the academic discipline of post-colonial studies, which is concerned with "practices of representation that reproduce a logic of subordination that endures even after former colonies gain independence." Basically, Said demonstrated that knowing the Orient was part of the more global project of dominating it, which would go beyond our expected view on the matter. As an example, in July 2015, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston cancelled Kimono Wednesdays that protesters labeled a latter-day form of racist minstrelsy. The museum invited visitors to try on a red kimono in front of Monet’s La Japonaise. "We were all quite surprised by the response," said MFA deputy director Katie Getchell.

"We thought it would be an educational opportunity for people to have direct encounters with works of art, which would help in understanding different cultures better." The protesters’ megalomania conflates Japanism with stereotyped images of Asians. The Japanese are not the same as, nor should they be confused with Chinese, Korean, Laotian, Vietnamese, or Thai. In the late 19th century the Japanese gave out their art for Western consumption and consciously contributed to its circulation in markets fueled by exoticized fascination with the East. Indeed, all the people who identified as Japanese under the NY Times article addressing the museum’s controversy, expressed confusion and perplexity at the protests. American racialized thinking is not universal and not at all common for Japanese.

Kyoto to Catwalk exposition | V&A museum©
Homogenic | Björk, N. Knight  & A. McQueen©

Eric: How does kimono culture integrate into the modern fashion world?

Sono: Kimono holds an anti-fashion message. Today, clothing is becoming less sacred, and the ready to wear label is getting much closer to ready to throw away. The ateliers or the transmission of the know-how were sacrificed by globalization. The couturiers of the past joined corporations to survive. The brands themselves collaborate more and more to stay afloat.

All the marketing is like a hollow religion with no values forcing people to consume.

The future is about sharing, not about fast fashion or its images, which eat us alive.

The word "kimono", literally means something to wear. Kimono itself is a simple straight-cut piece of clothing that does not make any form without a body. Western-style clothing is constructed in advance, it has its structured form. In the last few decades, everything got commodified in order to make our lives more simple. It is easier and faster to take a shower but we often prefer a hot spring, spa, or a relaxing bath.

Culture opposes civilisation, it’s about being conscious of inconvenience and appreciating it. It’s obviously easier to put on a t-shirt and jeans than to wear a kimono, it requires practice in every detail, from the belt knot to the wrapping technique, which develops the consciousness of how and why humans are the only animals that wear clothing. Truly, the culture that emerges from this phenomenon takes many faces.

Hence the opposition between slow-food and fast-food, anti-fashion and fast-fashion, organic homemade food, and a frozen meal popped in the microwave. Which one of these makes you feel good?

Eric: You underline that kimono is ecologically clean. Can you explain in more detail?

Sono: There’s a word in Japanese, mottainai. It is a term conveying a sense of regret concerning waste. This term became famous at a session of the United Nations where Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai introduced the word as a slogan for environmental protection. She explained that the meaning of the term mottainai encompasses the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair. She argued that "we should all use limited resources effectively and share them fairly if we are to avert wars arising from disputes over natural resources." The kimono is perfect for this eco-social act as it’s worn wrapped and can be easily adjusted in terms of the sizes. It is very common for Japanese women to pass their kimonos to daughters or even granddaughters.
Furthermore, the straight cut makes less waste, actually almost none, which simplifies the recycling of fabrics.

Textile details | Comptoir de Kimono©

Eric: What meaning do the Japanese attribute to the body?

Sono: That’s a point of contention between Japan and the Western world. In summer, the temperature can go as high as 35 degrees Celsius in some regions of Japan. And even in that context, it’s considered rude to show off your skin, especially if you're a woman. If you wear a tank top working in a big Japanese company, your behaviour can be condemned and compared to that of a prostitute.

The general consensus is that the Japanese hide their bodies. This philosophy touches our view on nakedness and eroticism, especially when it comes to fashion advertisement.

Japanese are more concerned with preservation and not exposition. Otherwise, the body itself is vulgarized, its value becomes dull and mundane, to a point where you will miss the freshness. To explain myself: compare a woman wearing beautiful underwear and the one completely naked, both just in front of you. The Japanese are the type that prefers the first kind of image: fashion should provide you with tools to wrap the body as it was an exciting present, not the opposite.

Eric: At which point did you decide to change your life and wear kimono every day?

Sono: I started wearing kimono more and more after the 2011 earthquake. A dozen of Japanese women in Paris supported Japan in this difficult time by wearing it as part of a charity movement. I was one of them. I participated as a teacher in kimono classes for interested foreigners, and as an activist. For example, I paraded dressed up every month at the Tea Salon. All the money went to the associations supporting Japan.

As time passed by, such occasions multiplied and I got used to kimono. Last year, I decided to promote this piece of clothing by wearing it everywhere I go, by defending it online and by opening my own boutique in Paris. So far, my path has just started. | 21 Boulvard Saint Martin 75003 Paris
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Chantal Thomas & Sono Fukunishi at the harvest festival
Sono Fukunishi©


What is HOMEMADE? It's a YouTube mini-series born during the lockdown spring. Why? To share our passion for Art and Design. The means of production are limited and collaborators can't come close to each other, but the desire to prevail over restrictions on freedom is still here, fueling us. The conditions in which we operate are therefore quite  special. Everyone works at home and communicates only by email or phone. HOMEMADE episodes so far confirmed that the hunger for exchange of artistic knowledge remains, whatever the circumstances. This mini-series thus takes the challenge to present artists with diverse cultures and identities from all over the world, during and after lockdown, no matter how complicated the logistics might be. So, subscribe and participate in this unprecedented adventure!

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The organdy envelope
Angélique's workshop | 2020 | Angélique©

Eric of CULTURAMA: Your sculptures have the particularity of using, in addition to materials like resin and PET, a textile material, organdy. In your workshop, whiteness and luminosity strike the visitor. Where does this fascination for white come from?

Angélique: As soon as I started, I removed colour because I wanted to move away from reality's materiality, while formally respecting realism. Space makes you sensitive and present, and at the same time, it conveys a form of abstraction. It is not only white that interests me, but also transparency, which I obtain through the choice of my materials: PET is a polyterephthalate which comes in transparent thermoformable sheets.

Angélique's workshop | Côté Paris magazine, January 2016 | Marietre Moulet©

Organdy is a very fine cotton with an openwork weave which we can see through. My sculptures are in a way the constitution of the envelope of the chosen artistic subject, human subject or object. I restore the surface. The closest image to illustrate my work would perhaps be moulting, also called exuviae, although I'm not entirely satisfied with this comparison because even here, there is an idea of temporality, of unfolding… we know that this is an empty envelope which the animal came out of. Whereas in the image that I want to create, everything happens at the same time, to make one feel present and absent.


I was a second-hand dealer and old objects tell us about times that have disappeared. Preserved objects have become rare and seem precious to us. So I would like to make images of our present feel as if they've already gone and become rare in this time lag: an anticipated present as a past.

Had3sia up-close | Organza, polymer resin | 2007 | Angélique©

Eric: Your pending exhibition, probably postponed until September, is called Prosôpons, an ancient Greek term meaning "faces" and "masks". The term Prosôpon has also designated a "person", since the second century BC. From the mask to the character, can you explain the genesis of this project?

Angélique: For years, I have been collecting transparent thermoformed packaging for toys, tools, decorative items, beauty products, etc. which keep the hollow form of the original objects. We see the analogy with my work: they have the shape of what has disappeared. For this exhibition, I have gathered the ones who, by the arrangement of their content, look like stylized heads and have drawn them in acrylic plaster. Luck, commercial strategy, designer work, preset machine calculations... what about this anthropomorphic aesthetic? The result gives something votive in relation with primary art masks, and questions the recurrent anthropomorphic side, conscious or not, of industrial packaging.

Prosôpon | Acrylic plaster | 2019 | Angélique©
Re-imagine your mask-wearing habits after lockdown Ancre
Walter Van Beirendonck

C'est la fête | Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam | Coco Fronsac©

Who would have thought that masks would become common on the streets of Europe? Let’s go back to one past exhibition and question this aspect of daily life. Walter Van Beirendonck was the curator of the Power Mask exhibition — the crossbreed from works of Margiela, of Basquiat, and from the tradition of the tribal mask of Papua New Guinea.
POWER MASK | Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam | Walter Van Beirendonck©
The mask has been a recurring motif in Walter's career, ever since its beginnings in the 1980s with the pioneering group of Antwerp Six, which redefined the aesthetics of the eighties and consecrated Belgian fashion. Since the events of March 2020, we have looked differently at Walter's masks that stay funny, frivolous, and romantic. They find their influence in the world's history, echoing with both past and present events.
POWER MASK | Arttube©
Kimono & streetwear Jotaro Saito | V&A museum©
Kyoto to Catwalk exposition | V&A museum©
Air filtration mask | Aō Air©
Fruits magazine cover by Shoichi Aoki©
Fruits magazine cover by Shoichi Aoki©
Space-age SS15 show | Junya Watanabe©
Kimono coat | Issey Miyake©
Trace | Koji Tatsuno©


Both web-magazine and video-broadcaster, CULTURAMA accompanies you in the exploration of the 21st century Art and Design, with its exclusive interviews, reports, and mini-series. For more CULTURAMA discoveries, subscribe!

CULTURAMA HOMEMADE #13 | «Before birds»

Editing team

Barbara Marshall | Grigoriy Manucharian | José Man Lius 
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