volume 38, number 5
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

Visual Anthropologists Take on Japanese Visual Culture
Richard Chalfen and Lindsey Powell, Temple University Japan, Tokyo

The Index of the Maiko by Anabelle Rodriguez (2004)


Studio Patron Posing

Anabelle came to the summer 2004 program as an advanced graduate student in Visual Anthropology at Temple. As an art curator, Anabelle had already studied many aspects of Japanese culture. She was especially interested in fine garments and their transformations in popular settings (another instance of old things surviving by transforming). Anabelle focused on an elite and expensive form of costume play (a theme of Japanese culture regularly discussed in the program): being dressed and made up to look like a Maiko, a Geisha in training. Anabelle went to Gion in Kyoto to do the project, as this was the trend-setting Geisha area. The Video DVD begins with a declaration: the index of the Maiko is “gaman,” toleration. The implication is that they prove by wearing all the heavy and expensive gear, gear which takes so much time to put on, that going through the grueling training which allows them to wear such a costume/uniform, that they are willing to go out of their way to please a patron and keep his secrets. This declaration is immediately reinforced as Anabelle squares away the deal and interacts with another patron farther through the process. The Japanese woman complains of a headache from the heavy wig, but strikes a pose anyway. This is the index of the Maiko: posing and performing beautifully while under heavy stress. The patron got it. It is an indigenous or emic theory, after all.

 

Applying White Foundation

To compress time, Anabelle manipulated the video speed, speeding it up in the middle of long processes, and then slowing it down during transitions between them. This naturally corresponded to times when there was more talking among the staff and customers about the various processes and decisions to be made. During the high speed images, Anabelle mixed in a variety of music formats, traditional and new, to reinforce the transformations, both of herself and in the broader fashion and society.

Applying Lipstick

There are a group of artists Anabelle is particularly interested in who make art featuring psychedelic kimono. Some of the music she introduces in the sped-up portions suggests this theme, one that becomes more apparent later in the piece. These musical interludes punctuate the light banter and instructions.

 

 

Anabelle wearing Maiko Geta, Tabi, and Kimono

  

Anabelle mixes in images of racks of kimono, silk belts, ribbons, wigs, handbags and other accessories, and shoes. The decisions are overwhelming. But once the kimono is chosen, everything falls into place, being narrowed into contention by the colors and patterns of the dominant gown. Everything has its place, its crease, its fold. Anabelle is looking tired. She can barely keep her balance on the geta and must bend her knees slightly, straining little-used muscles.

Altered Photograph

Photo time comes at last. Anabelle is taken into the studio. The male photographer, the first male we have seen (though we heard him in the distance barking out orders to staff), squeezes Anabelle as if she were a life-sized articulating doll on an armature, bending her this way and that, chin up, shoulder down. A fan and an umbrella are also used in especially famous poses. The video ends with the shots she paid for but manipulated by Anabelle to resemble the art she is so fond of.