Eijiro Miyama, Japan's Kawaii-est Older Gentleman

Photo by Geoffrey Gray

Eijiro Miyama, also known as B?shi Ojisan (“Hat Man”) or Harajuku Ojisan, is an outsider artist living in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. He’s known for crafting strange hats adorned with dolls, live goldfish, candy wrappers and other adornments.

From l’Art Brut, Lausanne:

Eijiro Miyama was born in Mie Prefecture, Japan. A loner, he never married and has always led a wandering sort of existence. He has had various jobs, notably as a day labourer in the construction industry and as a lorry driver. When he was around fifty-five, he settled in one of the boarding houses for impoverished working men in Yokohama’s Kotobuki district, where the unemployed and the socially excluded, homeless, tend to congregate. Today, aged seventy-four, he divides his time between free karaoke and his parades in town : every Saturday and Sunday, Eijiro Miyama goes to the Chinese district in Yokohama, a very lively place. There he meanders through the crowd on his bike, decked out in his brightly coloured hats and clothing, with messages of peace and fraternity written on cardboard packaging attached to his back.

One day, about ten years ago, Eijiro Miyama walked around with a cup of instant noodles on his head. People turned to stare as he went by. This act, provocative and liberating, gave him a huge feeling of exaltation. He gradually created eccentric headgear that he adorned with toys and sundry objects found discarded at flea markets. But this creator also applies his ingenuity to the clothes bought at jumble sales that he dons for his weekly appearances, turning his body into a support for expression.

Here he is being photographed by the Gothic Lolitas of Japan. Awww! More images and information herehereherehere, here, here, and here.

Photo by Gregory Flynn.

More images, after the cut!

“I am so goth, I was born black.”

Clockwise: Ms. Sally Bonetta Forbes, Cathleen Naundorf, Untitled (check out the rest of the “gothic lolita” tag as well), Roni Zulu

While there’s still never been a black model on the cover of Gothic Beauty Magazine (in fact, having looked the past twelve years of covers up close, it’s clear that even models with brown eyes appear to be a rarity among the blue- and green-eyed cover ladies), and while most spooky fashion designers still prefer white models for their branding, a host of blogs dedicated to multicultural dark fashion are bringing greater visibility to the people that these venues ignore. Just on Tumblr, there’s Darque & Lovely, DarkSKIN (subtitled “I was so goth, I was born black), and Black Sheep Goths. On Facebook, groups such as Black/African American Goths foster lively discussion.

Of the Tumblr communities, Black Sheep focuses most specifically on people who are othered (providing a platform for “queer/fat/trans/non-binary/disabled/POC” goths), while DarkSKIN delves most deeply into different time periods (from Victorian photographs to seventies album covers to a friend’s most recently-uploaded snapshots), pop culture personalities taking a turn for the macabre (from Eartha Kitt singing “I want to be evil” to Aaliyah playing a sultry Anne Rice vampire) and media (from high-end fashion shoots to grainy self-portraits)

Many of the images come with empowering and, at times, defensive captions. It seems that even in 2012, some try to claim that the goth scene belongs to white people only. One caption on the Darque & Lovely blog, below an image of tattoo artist Roni Zulu, reads: “this is for the chicken-shit anon who said black people shouldn’t ‘do’ goth or punk. At certain points in history to be black in America was (still can be) a pretty gothic experience, to say the least.”

Clockwise: Asha Beta/Silentinfinite collaboration, Neon Leon, photo by Mert and Marcus, Actress Vonetta McGee as Princess Luva in Blacula, photo copyright Everett Collection / Rex Features

Is the goth scene unfriendly to people with dark skin? What do non-white goths think about the fetishization of paleness in the gothic subculture?

“The only time I experienced anything racial in the scene was at Death Guild [a San Francisco goth night],” says Shamika “Meeks” Baker, a San Francisco-based writer, artist and model. “A guy walked up to me, shouted ‘scuse me!’ and shoved me aside. Of couse, when I grabbed the back of his Fun Fur coat and yanked him back to demand an apology, he started screaming ‘get your black hands off of me!’ Happily, after I finished scaring him and turned around, I discovered several of my friends behind me and ready to back me up. [Other than that incident], I’ve found that the goth scene has been really welcoming and open.”

“For me, the fetishization of paleness in beauty in general is very much a class issue as opposed to straight race,” says New York-based artist/maker Numidas Prasarn. “The ‘ideal gothic beauty’ of being pale comes from this sense of otherness. When mainstream de mode is tanned beach babe, the pale contrast is taken up as the signifier of an Other that defensively puffs itself up. The problem is that it’s a microcosm that doesn’t necessary carry the sense of self-awareness to realize that it’s also othering people.”

Clockwise: Amanda Tea, Barron Claiborne, Leif Podhajsky, Unknown from Burning Man by Iñaki Vinaixa

Asha Beta, a sculptor, jewelry designer and musician currently living in Prescott, Arizona, comments on her invisibility within a community that borrows aesthetics from her cultural heritage:

The “traditional” ideal of the scene as the pale-faced, black-clad individual definitely never applied to me, but because of my instant and deep connection and attraction to the music and atmosphere of the scene I had to set that aside. I always felt that I was not perceived to be as attractive, as beautiful or even as “goth” as girls who were paler than me. I never attracted many suitors and I reconciled myself to never being able to approach the “gothic ideal of beauty” very early on, although I felt within myself that my personal way of being “goth” was very sincere and creative and very much true to what “goth” was all about. The one part of the scene that obviously made me uncomfortable was the military/Nazi/Aryan faction of it, although I understand that for many of those people it was a fetish or history obsession type of thing, and not necessarily based in racism.

Many of the aesthetics of goth culture are taken from my cultural heritage (Asian/East Indian/Middle Eastern, African/Egyptian/Voodoo/Haitian-Caribbean) so I still felt and feel strongly that my connection to it is natural and instinctive and powerful. It was achingly difficult to be a minority within the subculture I deeply loved because it’s within these that we find acceptance and understanding where the larger society rejects us. I was a loner within the scene just as I was in society. I found a personal solace and creative outlet, but I never found the community I was searching for. I am overjoyed to finally see our subcultures mirroring the multicultural quality of our world, and so glad to see the younger generations of subcultures finding and creating communities to connect with and support one another.

Meeks Baker agrees. “I love that more emerging blogs/sites focus on us dark-skinned gothy types. To be honest, I never really cared much for gothic beauty magazines because they didn’t really reflect my aesthetic, but I did still feel marginalized. To this day I am thrilled to see ethnic diversity represented in alternative culture.”

Help Build a Hackerspace in Baghdad!

GEMSI’s 3D printing workshop in Baghdad with TEDxBaghdad

A Kickstarter project (currently in its last 7 hours!) hopes to foster innovation, learning and creativity in ravaged post-war Iraq. Bay Area-based maker Bilal Ghalib, the creator of GEMSI (the Global Entrepreneurship and Maker Space Initiative), is raising funds on Kickstarter to create a popup hackerspace in Baghdad.

As part of the initiative, GEMSI is collecting stories from “everyday superheroes” living in Baghdad who have used DIY hacks to solve problems in their neighborhoods. One such story, Murtadha Fills In, has already been published in comic form on GEMSI’s site. During the two-day hackerspace event, GEMSI will host skillshares, talks, and workshops structured around the collected stories. The stories will be also be published in a graphic novel available in both Arabic and English.

GEMSI workshop in Cairo during Maker Faire Africa 2011. Photo by Mitch Altman

“The challenges that Iraq faces are vast, but the solutions to those challenges are already inside the country,” says Ghalib in the Kickstarter video. Ultimately, Ghalib hopes that collaborative community spaces become more prevalent in Africa and the Middle East. In the Kickstarter project description, he describes his vision for Baghdad:

Imagine you are a young Iraqi student, just graduating college. Opportunities to work in the country are few, and working outside Iraq is difficult due to strict visa requirements. Your country still experiences violence weekly, while also facing many technical challenges characteristic of a developing country. You want to build the country, you want to share – but you feel isolated. You hear about a group of people who have an open space near the center of town where you can build almost anything. One day you decide to see what it’s about. There, you find others like you: looking at the world around them and thinking about how they can start creating solutions. They are creating open source medical devices, filling potholes in city roads, creating clean street initiatives, or making alternative energy products to fix the intermittent power issues of Baghdad. These are people taking initiative. They are looking to take ownership of their cities and build the change they want to see – serving their communities on the most direct level. At this open space, you have finally found a home to put your talents and energy to work. You’ve found a group you can trust, they are courageous, curious, and want to help you create a better future. You feel happy, you feel capable, you’ve found your people.

GEMSI’s Kickstarter campaign deadline coincides with YouTube disaster “The Innocence of Muslims” (a diametrically opposite example of American-made grassroots activism aimed at the Muslim world) and Newsweek’s incendiary “Muslim Rage” magazine cover (which has been deconstructed beautifully by Twitter).

It’s at times like this – when governments and news media fail on both sides fail to repair the damage – that we need to step up, use crowdfunding, set up our own workshops, and help one another. So – hackers of the world unite. Donate here.

Gail Potocki's Regal "Freaks" Portraits

In recent years, the most heart-achingly beautiful booth in all of San Diego Comic Con’s grand exhibition hall has consistently been that of our friends at Century Guild, a Chicago-based art gallery and publishing house.

Since 2007, they’ve been bringing the lion’s share of their astonishing collection of Art Nouveau, Symbolist, and Cabaret-related prints, lithographs, castings, and original artworks (Klimt! Mucha! Schiele! Szukalski!) to Con to be offered up for sale to discerning buyers… as well as to deliciously torment covetous, grubby urchins like myself. (Oh, but it hurts so good!) Century Guild also deals in a drool-inducing selection of contemporary artists –many of whom often make it out to SDCC for signings– Jeremy Bastian, Dave McKean, Michael Hussar, and Gail Potocki, to name a few.

Gail Potocki, specifically, is on my mind tonight, as I peruse my modest stockpile of last July’s SDCC bounty…

Portrait of Daisy & Violet Hilton by Gail Potocki

An emotive modern Symbolist painter, Potocki melds her mastery of classical 18th/19th Century technique with a profound and compassionate love for her unique array of portrait subjects. (A few years ago, Century Guild produced a lavish hardcover collection of her work called The Union of Hope and Sadness: The Art of Gail Potocki. Highly recommended. And you can read more about her impressive body of work here, here, and here.)

It was at the Century Guild booth that I discovered one of the most gorgeous and exquisitely produced print objects at all of SDCC 2012: a Century Guild-crafted series of  Victorian carte de visites-reminiscent trading cards featuring Potocki’s “Freaks” paintings. Lovers of Tod Browning‘s controversial-yet-inarguably humanizing 1932 film by the same name will be sure to appreciate the elegant, thoughtful historicity of Potocki’s renderings of these five well-known early 20th Century vaudeville/sideshow performers: Daisy & Violet Hilton, Pip, Flip, Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, and Annie Jones the Bearded Woman. Fellow paper fetishists should be impressed as well, as each card is handmade and letterpressed– a sumptuous tactile experience! They’re affordable, too, in spite of being a super limited edition. (I snatched them up immediately.)

Having just checked the Century Guild website, I see that they’re still available for purchase here. Had to share. They are so lovely, and lovingly done.

"My Way" Drummer Steals the Show

Regrets… we’ve all had a few.
Watching this video until the drummer kicks in? Probably not gonna be one of them.

(via M. S. le Despencer)

Jeff Noon and ChannelSK1N: “I’m a celebrant of the future – Bring on the void.”

Who among ye has not read the spectacular sci-fi tome Vurt by Jeff Noon? Highly recommended. In 1994, the Manchester native’s debut novel earned him an Arthur C. Clarke award, as well as kindly comparisons to Anthony Burgess and William Gibson. Vurt is one of the most gorgeously and utterly bent, feather-suckin’ subcultural fables of the ’90s, or any other decade. (Noon’s entire bibliography from ’93 through 2002 is quite resonant, perhaps especially –though not exclusively– for those of us who found ourselves falling down various cyber/raver/club kid rabbit holes during that time!)

In more recent years, Noon has been challenging the boundaries of online social networking sites. In addition to regularly posting character fiction on his official Twitter, he previously spent a span of time updating an account called @temp_user9 with haunting lyrical shards. There’s also his Microspores Tumblr, where select units of his micro-fiction are offered up with visual and sonic accompaniment, all crowd-sourced from Noon’s readership.

Apparently, Noon’s been grokking a lot of reality television lately as well. Last month saw the self-published release of his first full-length novel in ten years, ChannelSK1N. It’s available in digital format only, which makes a certain poetic sense, given its darkly rasterized plot:

In the infotainment ‘n’ plastic-surgery-addicted near-future, a fading pre-fab pop star called Nola Blue discovers that her relevancy has rallied thanks to an unexpected mutuation: her skin has begun receiving and broadcasting television signals. Intimations of Frankenstein, nods to Cronenberg and (of course) Orwell abound as Noon reels out the trials and tribs his characters in brilliant, sometimes brutal parodies of current popular culture.

In the novel’s press release statement, Noon gamely states “I’m a celebrant of the future – Bring on the void.” And ChannelSK1N certainly is a leap through the dark; this is not staid fare by any stretch. Back in February, he spoke with Cult Den about his ongoing desire to push forward, and how that influenced his decision to self-publish:

I looked around for a publisher, almost went with one, but decided in the end to self-publish. The reasons for this are two-fold: firstly, they wanted to publish it in March 2013. That’s way too late for me. As I mentioned, I was in real need of connecting with an audience once again. And secondly, I really wanted to be free to put out what I wanted, when I wanted, including, alongside narrative based works, lots of more experimental stuff. Basically, I wanted to just write, and not have to wait. Just do it. See what happens. That’s my current attitude, and self-publishing gives me that freedom. I think you’ll see a whole bunch of works coming from me, over the next few years, each one placed somewhere along the avant-pulp borderline.

That freedom has worked in Noon’s favor with ChannelSK1N. This is Noon in high gear, showcasing his meticulous gifts as a wordsmith, his rebellious approach to storytelling, and his knack for multi-sensory invocation. Both brightly visual and highly sonic, the narrative is full of fine-tuned passages which, when read aloud, parse like complex music, syncopated by bursts of oddly catchy static. It’s restless Burroughsian cut-up ambiance– a bookish kind of scrying-via-late night satellite TV surfing. More adventurous readers in his audience are certain to tune in, and rejoice.

Поющий кот Сальвадор / Salvador the Singing Cat (?)

I have no idea what you’re talking about, so here’s a vaguely phallic thumb-faced thingy singing a duet with a vaguely labia majora-lipped pussycat. In Russian. Honestly, I have no idea what they’re talking about, either. Wheeee!

Hey, Nadya! Welcome back from the playa! We can haz translation?

(Via E. Stephen Weirdo.)

Old 9-Eyes Is Back In Town…

For several years now, artist/filmmaker/essayist Jon Rafman has been exploring the ever-widening gyre of Google Street View‘s wandering compound eye. His curation continues to give us access to a strange, diverse, and lonely assortment of digital windows into the world.

You can easily lose hours perusing Rafman’s Tumblrized site, 9-eyes (named after the nine lenses mounted on a Google Street View car), which presents, without commentary, some of the most captivating and unsettling and often inexplicable imagery Rafman has culled from GSV.

Several critics have remarked that Rafman’s 9-eyes collection is “museum-worthy”. No argument, here… although it’s potentially even more affecting when viewed in the context of its native environment of the World Wide Web. Haunting stuff.

(Via Dusty Paik, thanks! Several more images under the cut.)

One Giant Leap…

Famous photo of Buzz Aldrin by Neil Armstrong.

“The important achievement of Apollo was demonstrating that humanity is not forever chained to this planet and our visions go rather further than that and our opportunities are unlimited.”

Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012)

Still image of Armstrong walking on the moon, shot by the lunar lander’s movie camera.

Announcing Genderplayful

Our long-admired colleague Sarah Dopp –a compulsive mover/shaker/go-getter whose Twitter description aptly reads “Gets excited and poops out communities”– has just announced the official launch of Genderplayful, a new venture she’s running with several cohorts. Sixteen months in the making, Genderplayful is an online marketplace celebrating diversity in gender presentation and body types, and it is wonderful.

GENDERFUCKER Etched Copper Necklace, available at Genderplayful.

From their press release:

This is for anyone who can’t easily find what they’re looking for in a typical clothing store, with special support for androgynous, unisex, butch, dapper, femme, gender-bending, gender-transgressive, and gender-fanflippingtastic clothing solutions for all kinds of bodies.

Genderplayful cares about custom solutions, and the marketplace will host a lively community that finds and creates those solutions together. Vendors will include indie designers, crafters, clothing makers, tailors, and people selling things from their closets and local thrift stores. Community members will pool notes on what they’re excited about, and vendors will take cues from buyers on what to create more of. The goal is to create a culture-rich gorgeous Internet bazaar for the playful, the exquisite, and the just trying to get dressed in the morning.

Dopp further states, “It rallies a community to work collectively on the question, ‘How can we build wardrobes we love that fit our bodies well?’, and it offers extra encouraging support for trans, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming folks (an identity set that we define very broadly). The project was inspired by what we’ve learned in our work at Genderfork.com.”

IKE tee by Genderplayful vendor komsikomsi.

Hearty congratulations to Dopp and the entire Genderplayful family. We know how long and hard you’ve worked to put this community/interface together, and it’s really exciting.

Genderfuckery is fun! Let’s go shopping!