KIMONO 2: WHAT WE WEAR
Kimono 2 What We Wear (In Vita)
- 2015 First performance, Oslo, Norway
- 2017 Seattle Erotic Art Festival
The official info for 2017 performance
Kimono 2: What We Wear
A challenging interactive performance exploring the layers of identity and internalized performance of gender, race, culture, beauty, and commodification of the Japanese American woman today.
Midori will perform her amazing piece Saturday April 29th at 9pm on the Gallery Stage.
About this work
A mask and kimono, worn during my performance by the same title [PB: link to Performance>Kimono 2 What We Wear (In Vita)] , hang stretched on bamboo. A monitor loops the 24-minute performance. The kimono is painted white outside and gold inside.
The performance and installation address the layers of externally imposed expectations of behavior, conflicting internal identities, and the performance of self. Beauty, belonging, American-ness, Japanese-ness, quiet or silenced, sexuality, cultural pride and trauma, including the objectification and fetishization of the Asian femme bodies.
Towards the end of the performance, the audience is silently invited to paint the faceless Asian woman white.
Autonomy stripped away as layers, projections, violations, and objectification continuously get caked on. It’s suffocating. Yet I claim my autonomy by governing the rules and expectations of the performance, reclaiming the struggles experienced as a queer mixed identified Japanese womxn
The Real Backstory & What Happens
Sometimes the fire of creative inspiration is lit by a match stroke of rage thrown onto a pool of long bubbling grief.
In 2015, the performance coordinator for Oslo Fetish Weekend contacted me about creating a “shibari performance” for their big finale gala. At this point, 2015, the modern kink social circles, in general, still aren’t all that concerned about cultural appropriation, Orientalism, the fetishization of BIPOC bodies, colonized sexuality, or the unexamined privilege and assumptions rampant among ‘us.’ The eruption of massive social justice action and cultural reckoning from #MeToo and George Floyd’s murder was still in the future.
In 2015 I’m already exhausted, frustrated, angry, and weary from a life of dealing with daily microaggressions and two decades of friction with those who treasure the myth of Japanese bondage.
Reasonable dialogue, efforts to engage and educate, or ‘polite’ showing-not-telling wasn’t getting anywhere. I’ve dealt with producers who want to mix all the yellow-face tropes in their “Asian-themed” parties. When they wouldn’t listen I had to walk away. Balancing seeking opportunities in a niche field while navigating around unacceptable expectations, it’s a challenge.
So now I have a request to make a ‘shibari performance.’ From the basic negotiation, I got the sense that they imagined “traditional Shibari” performance, which seemed to mean “pretty skinny woman tied up / pretty skinny woman up in the air / pretty skinny woman down / preferably with somebody wearing a kimono to show ‘cultural respect.’” Over the course of the email exchange, I had a flash of an idea, and asked only for the basic parameters – the type of stage, resource and support available, duration of performance etc etc. Then I offered to create a custom performance, something new and entirely unique. They liked the sound of that and started to ask mode needs, how many suspension points above, etc… but I stopped them.
I asked simply “will you trust me?”
Not knowing me, they weren’t aware that this meant I was up to something. I got back to them in a matter of a few days. I asked for a theater-in-the-round performancing area with a cat walk, four stagehands, preferably white men. Given that this is Norway where white people come from, I figured this was likely not a difficult request. Additional requests included tarps, bowls, changing room, and rehearsal time with the stagehands, and coordination with the sound & light teams. They asked again how many suspension points and that they had ‘just the right model” for me. I declined all of that.
At this point, dear readers, I need to be clear that the producer was being entirely reasonable, easy to communicate and coordinate with, and acting in good faith effort. The problem is not with the organizing team or the event, per se.
The problem is how the dominant culture flattens and exoticizes others, including but not limited to sexuality and bodily agency. It’s about how that created a norm in the pervy subcultures. Kink and BDSM subcultures, while stigmatized or ‘othered’ themselves, they’re not immune to the stereotyping in the larger culture they are part of.
The dominant cultural expectation is that I, the minority, would perform ‘me’ to meet their idea of ‘me’ – which is so very much not me. I could meet them where they want me to be, or could turn this down. But there was another option. I could accept this and have them meet me in my reality.
What they got was “Kimono 2 What We Wear ” (In Vita)
I am now calling the performative version of this work as “in Vita ” meaning performed live, to distinguish this from the installation version.
The performance itself
At the big event, the audience, dressed in their finest shiny black latex, vinyl, leather, and corsets, gathered around the performance area.
There was a long pause as a spotlight hit the stage. They must have been waiting for “The Great Shibari Performer” to arrive.
Grumbling arises as someone pushes their way through the crowd to get a better look.
It’s a small woman dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, a Captain America t-shirt, and a Mickey Mouse cap drinking a Coca-Cola. She wanders into the stage area, gawking, wide-eyed, and scratching her head like some country bumpkin. (It’s me of course! )
I step up to the catwalk where my demeanor and countenance change.
With solemnity, I remove my shoes, open the satchel, and begin to dress properly and traditionally, into an embroidered black silk vintage kimono with a gold brocaded obi. (I am so glad to have taken proper kimono lessons ever so long ago!)
The soundtrack that I composed is already playing. It’s a twisted audio collage. Opens with an over-distorted version of Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner, followed by machine gun and battle sounds from Vietnam, with the recurring refrains from Madama Butterfly, weaving in and out with traditional Japanese folk music.
Now fully dressed in the kimono, with Micky Mouse ears, I sit before the bowls of paint and powders and begin the wearing of faces.
First, my naked face.
Next, black eye lids and red lips. Current and western fem beauty.
Cover and erase face with white rice powder
Next, red lips and black smudges on my forehead as the painted brows (tenjomayu 殿上眉) of Muromachi era beauties
Erase face with layer of white rice powder
Next. Red circle and red rays – the flag of the rising sun, so deeply associated with the imperialist brutality of Japan in Asia, the same history that Japanese government and many citizens deny. The shame of my blood.
Erase face with layer of white rice powder
Next, thick slab of bright yellow and black slanty eyes – the yellow-faced asian representation that went accepted, and still do
Erase face with layer of white rice powder
I pick up the Noh mask of the elegant, calm Japanese beauty. I face the mask, she looks back at me. I don that unmoving face.
(Under the layers of thick paint and mask, I can’t see, I can barely breathe.)
Rising I move to the back of the stage and down.
(I am walking blind at this point. I have memorized my place on stage, my place in the world.)
Calmly I walk to the center of the gathering.
There I bind myself with red rope.
Once done, I stand still.
The four stage hands, now holding buckets of white paint and wide house painting brushes, each take a turn and paint across the figure. they silently walk up to the audience and offer the bucket and brush. After some hesitation, someone takes the bucket and brush, steps up and paints on the figure. Another, and then another.
(I can’t know what’s happening outside of my suffocating head. I have to trust. But I also know that I am the one orchestrating all that is happening. That I am putting the audience in a conundrum of complicity.)
When the painting is done, when the audience is done, the stagehands bring out a large thick Oriental rug.
The figure, stiff as a stone statue, falls back. They roll her up into the carpet, lift the bundle onto a dolly and take it away.