May 26, 2021
10. What challenges are raised by the dissemination & communication of knowledge?
Object 1 : Hokusai’s “The Great Wave”
This is The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai. It is the first and most well-known piece in Hokusai’s series, 36 views of Mt Fuji. This piece depicts a monstrous wave before it crashes with Mount Fuji seen in the background. People outside of Japan recognize this piece as a Japanese cultural symbol. However, people in Japan just see this piece as an example of the woodblock printing style that was popular among Japanese artists during Hokusai’s time period.
This piece holds a cultural significance in the West that it does not in Japan. Because of this, we can say that this piece has lost its original meaning, however, the loss of said meaning is not considered to have negatively impacted the nature of the piece. In fact, it is more accurate to say that this piece gained something positive out of being given a new meaning. Despite this, Japanese art historians and government officials were against this piece’s newfound popularity in the West, believing that there are many other examples of great Japanese artworks that Westerners can view as representative. This demonstrates that one possible challenge in the dissemination/communication of knowledge is the unwanted assignment of a cultural symbol that holds a different meaning in its own country of origin.
Despite the negative attitude Japanese art historians and government officials initially had for this piece’s popularity, Japan has more recently adopted the significance that foreigners have given this piece. This is a direct result of the miscommunication of knowledge. This object enriches this exhibition by presenting an anomaly in the consideration of the challenges raised in the dissemination/communication of knowledge; it shows how these challenges were overcome and embraced. Now, it is no longer regarded as some commercial woodblock print, but rather one of the most influential and recognizable pieces of Japanese art.
Object 2 : Tweet from twitter user @daumkeziah
On April 22nd, 2018, a Caucasian woman posted photos on twitter of her wearing a traditional Chinese Qipao to her prom. Upon posting these pictures, she was met with a wave of backlash from people accusing her of cultural appropriation for failing to acknowledge its cultural significance, but also received just as many compliments and approval for her use of the dress.
The group of people accusing her of cultural appropriation believed that wearing this dress for the sole purpose of wanting to be “different” among her peers at her prom is disrespectful to the cultural significance that this dress holds: it symbolized beauty, elegance and wealth among Chinese women. Many twitter users expressed their views by saying this use of the Qipao is parallel to colonial ideology, in the sense that something with a background of a marginalized group overcoming extreme barriers of oppression has become subject to American consumerism to cater to a white audience. Others argue that, when someone appreciates the aesthetics of cultural garments, it is cultural appreciation rather than appropriation. People often have misunderstandings, as many believe that is you are not explicitly appreciating another culture, it should immediately be labelled as cultural appropriation. The fear of the appropriation of cultures and being accused of cultural appropriation hinders the dissemination/communication of culture/knowledge.
This object enriches the exhibition by showing how cultural appreciation can open doors for people looking to learn more about a certain culture. When this woman wore this garment, even if just for the aesthetic value, she actively made a statement that she likes and wants to learn more about the culture. Even though this could encourage the dissemination/communication of knowledge, people continue to defend their culture from outsiders. The fear that foreign consumers may take traditional garments and denounce its history is a valid reason for appointing certain measures against the dissemination of knowledge and spreading of cultures.
Object 3 : Strawberry Blond by Mitski
Mitski Miyawaki is a musical artist who writes music about her struggles with mental illness and being a mixed raced person of colour. An example of one of her most popular songs about the latter topic is Strawberry Blond, released on August 1st, 2013. This song illustrates the struggles of being in an interracial relationship with significant cultural differences.
Mitski wrote this song about the struggles of being a person of colour in a society that praises beauty according to Western beauty standards and condemns anything that falls outside of this standard. Her lyrics have been interpreted by white listeners who change the narrative in favour of their experiences as a white person multiple times. Strawberry Blond has become subject to the same fate. While songs going viral have great benefits for the original artists, the loss of this particular song’s meaning was not worth its virality, as it can be seen as a white audience speaking over the struggles of people of colour. The challenge that this brings to the dissemination/communication of knowledge is the fact that this song gained its popularity through a false narrative that speaks over the original meaning.
This object enriches this exhibition because it illustrates the issues raised in a context that would usually be considered a step forward in the dissemination/communication of knowledge. Of course, fans are completely free to interpret the meanings of songs they like; however, an issue arises when it actively dismisses specific issues the artist struggles with.
Knowing the meaning/story could be dismissed in this manner hinders artists from sharing their work, therefore raising another issue in the dissemination/communication of knowledge.
Keziah, @daumkeziah. “PROM Pic.twitter.com/gsJ0LtsCmP.” Twitter, April 22, 2018. https://twitter.com/daumkeziah/status/988115815068139520.
MacGregor, Neil. “A History of the World in 100 Objects, Mass Production, Mass Persuasion (1780 – 1914 AD), Hokusai’s The Great Wave.” BBC Radio 4. BBC, October 14, 2010. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00v72n6.
Mitski. “Strawberry Blond.” Spotify, August 1, 2013. https://open.spotify.com/track/3eGsNpXzcb1BDkfSJI54NY?si=763fbf7b6b224e1b.
Shanghaiist.com. “American Girl Wears Qipao to Prom, Gets Accused of ‘Cultural Appropriation’.” Medium. Shanghaiist, May 1, 2018. https://medium.com/shanghaiist/american-girl-wears-qipao-to-prom-gets-accused-of- cultural-appropriation-891f5dfd97d2.
Stonard, John-Paul. “Hokusai: The Great Wave That Swept the World.” The Guardian. Guardian News anD Media, May 19, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/may/19/hokusai-japanese-artist-late- blossoming-great-wave-mount-fuji
Wong, Lina. “Gatekeeping Mitski .” Unpublished. Unpublished Magazine, March 11, 2021. https://www.unpublishedzine.com/music-1/gatekeeping-mitskinbsp.