Friday, December 7, 2007

A reflection on colour

if you are living among e.pulcherima and bouganvillea, the soft yellow and pink of yesterday's sunrise pale in comparison to the colours rioting in your landscape.

During early winter in northwestern Ontario, and in other northerly landscapes, the colours that nurture us in the daytime tend to come from a rather limited palette -- blue light and dark, a dash of black-tinged forest green, whole fields of stark white, an abundance of gray, and simply brown, plain old sparrow brown. Pinks and yellows are found only in the sky, and even then only fleetingly.

This winter washing out of colour brought the film Gabbeh to my mind. It is an Iranian film about a carpet. Well, not really a carpet but a gabbeh, a handwoven tapestry/mat that is made by the nomadic women and girls of Iran. Each woman's history is told on her personal gabbeh, as she "writes" down what she sees, what is important to her into the pattern of her mat. Each woman's emotional life as part of a collective of people and as embedded in a (moving) landscape is written down onto the mat. The mat serves many purposes. It is a book, a photo album, a diary, a newspaper, an archive, an heirloom, a place to sleep, to eat, to dream. A bed. A kitchen table.

The colours in the movie are incredible, visually outstandingly beautiful. It made me reflect on northwestern Ontario, on Finland, on the north. About how the landscape and the colours that are available to colour one's life story and history are so different than the vibrancy, the shock of colour, the jewel tones and the intense reds, blues, greens and yellows of countries such as Iran. It made me think of how our forests and rivers and fields and wildflowers script a different sense of self, different stories and poems.

I also recently read 3 books on women's clothing in Saudi Arabia, Persia and Palestine. They are old books. There are a lot of photographs that focus on the sheer intricacy of designs, and the sheer beauty that women have dreamt up to make themselves even more beautiful. I got mad when I was looking through these books because they show the truth of the history of these places -- that they are places where women have developed advanced arts of fabric, clothing design, makeup, jewelery, etc that are incredibly beautiful and yet what does the West know?

Paint these places as if the women were a homogeneous glob of dark formless shapes who have no sense of feminine beauty or the female body or form. This is TOTALLY WRONG. The history of clothing that I have been reading shows how absolutely and integrally the feminine HAS EMERGED from these places. Indeed, the western sense of the feminine is indebted to eastern women. The west has a lot to learn about what makes a woman beautiful from... the east. Part of the logic of the looking-glass world.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the arts of beauty and fashion would put any woman from northwestern Ontario in the doghouse of dowdiness. The fabrics. The colours. The jewelery. Even the veils of the past were about enhancing one's beauty, not hiding it. I think that it is only in very recent times that religion has been used and the media has distorted the historical narrative of women's arts of femininity. Really, every one should read books like these. It would change how they see "those" women "over there." Whole entire histories have been completely enshrouded by the lies we tell ourselves. That is the true veil--what hangs before western eyes. The inability to see the beauty of these places. The beauty of their women. The beauty of their people. The beauty of their traditions. The inability to learn from them rather than keep trying to teach them lessons on how to westernize.

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