The trouble with representing place through street-style photos

Shooting street style in Indonesia: Part 2

So what can I say about style in Indonesia after shooting there for three weeks this past January? What can I claim to have learned about place, space and meaning from documenting a people through their stylized exceptions? Well, perhaps there is not all that much I can say that has not already been said thousands of times already: that Indonesia is vast and varied; that its quilt work of cultures is impossible to accurately characterize without a great deal of hedging; that it is highly syncretic and appropriative, drawing from multiple other places and cultures, whether by inspiration or imposition. There is no ‘Indonesian’ style, just as there has never been an Indonesian culture or character. There is no singularity of vision. And yet there are tendencies and moods that I hope emerge from these photos, patterns just on the verge of crystallization. Hijabers, for instance, with their colourful play on high fashion excess and modest piety, have risen to public prominence in the last decade. But so have punks, indie kids and metalheads. There has long been something fundamentally democratic at work in Indonesian fashion, a sheer irrepressible diversity of influences, none ever able to fully dominate another. But the democratization of Indonesian style tells us little about Indonesia’s place in the larger fashion world, a place still tenuous and marginal at best. Indonesia has been largely left out of representation in the street-style blogosphere, just as it has in the fashion world more generally. Street style, as currently conceptualized, remains foreign to Indonesia for reasons articulated here, and Indonesia, consequently, remains off the street-style map. I hope these pictures succeed in evoking something of the dynamism and variety of style in Indonesia today. I hope they succeed in making visible something of what still remains without representation.

By Brent Luvaas

This text originally appeared in Clothing Cultures 1.1 (Intellect, 2013). To read the full article click here


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