INTRODUCTION
Hildi Hendrickson
T
Fashion has dualities in its formation, a reputation for snobbery and sin ....
It
is
obsessive about outward appearances, yet speaks the unconscious and our deepest
desires.-J. Ash and E. Wilson
(1992,
xi)
To be able to blend-that's what realness is. The idea of realness is to look as much as
possible like your straight counterpart .... It's not a take-off or a satire-no, it's actually
being able to be this. It's really a case of going back into the closet.-Dorian Corey on
transvestism in the film Paris is Burning, dir. Jennie Livingston
If you wear the clothes of your enemy, the spirit of the enemy is weakened. You are then
wearing the spirit of his brothers and then they are weakened.-Herero cultural com-
mentator in southern Africa (cited in Hendrickson, this volume)
In this volume, we investigate popular, political, economic, and spiritual mean-
ings assigned to treatments of the body surface in a variety of African colonial
and post-colonial contexts. We explore the bodily and material engendering of
women, spirits, youths, ancestors, and entrepreneurs; we consider fashion,
spirit possession, commodity exchange, hygiene, and mourning, among other
divergent spheres of action and meaning.
In studying treatments of the body surface in nineteenth- and twentieth-
century African history, we sharpen our consciousness of both the constructed-
ness and the interconnectedness of cultural systems. Our essays demonstrate
that Africa and the West are mutually engaged in a semiotic web whose implica-
tions are not completely controlled by any of us. We illuminate performative
processes critical to the creation of "tradition" and "modernity" through which
national and international identities are negotiated. We challenge conceptions
that divide too cleanly "first" and "third" worlds, colonizer and colonized,
producer and consumer, indigene and tourist, or body and spirit.
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