Study Abroad Project Proposal
As a group, we have chosen to examine the use of various mediums as a means of identity expression and self-advocacy, as well as how these artistic and often personal choices impact outside perceptions of certain groups. Focusing on personal choices, Hannah will be researching how people use clothing as a form of expression and how society perceives them as a result of these decisions. Mira will be exploring how various minorities are portrayed in films and how German-produced films and those produced by the groups of interest may differ in their portrayals of the minority group. Roujia and Kendra will both be exploring German theater, examining the different aspects of social change that can be achieved through live performance. Roujia will be examining how ethnic minorities use stage performance as a means for social inclusion by the majority, while Kendra will be looking at how marginalized groups use theater arts to advocate for equal rights and opportunities in their own communities. In totality, our research will focus on how judgments based on appearance can affect daily interactions and how these judgments are either perpetrated or broken down through the human mediums of fashion, film, and theater.
Identity often manifests itself most visibly in the choices that people make in their own presentation. Most easily, this belief translates itself into an examination of fashion and clothing choices as a form of self expression. However, as our group, loosely described as “Performance,” looked for a more unifying theme, we chose to extend this concept of identification to include the artistic choices involved in film and theater. In synthesizing the different lenses we each chose to view identity with, we arrived at the broader concept of a “human medium,” that guides both the formation and perceptions of identity. Since identity is a main theme of the study abroad program as a whole, we decided to make that a focus of all of our project to help ground and unite us. From there we decided to look at how the identities of groups or individuals are expressed through fashion, film and theatre. Unlike music or visual arts such as painting or drawing, you don’t need tools and years of practice. This makes these forms of expression, where you only really need your body, more accessible to individuals of a variety of backgrounds where the tools for other arts may not have been available to them. The accessibility of these forms of expression make them among the easiest ways to share the unique experiences of individuals and come to significant understandings about the different identities they are rooted in.
Fashion is truly a human medium. It is created by, chosen, worn and interpreted by people. It is not only an expression of the artist that originally created it, but also the model that chooses to wear it and the manner in which they chose to do so. To many the artistry of clothing seems trivial and pointless, but clothing and fashion represent a billion dollar, global enterprise that employs millions of people with countless professional aspirations. The influence of fashion is not to be overlooked.
Like film and theatre, fashion is form of expression. Expression that can be used for social activism, oppression through stereotyping or self identification. There is really no limit to what fashion can be used for or how it can be perceived. This makes fashion a very powerful tool and is the reason why it is so important to the social structure of a community or country. Common attitudes towards clothing create social narratives that can be hard to change or most past. These attitudes also give people to portray themselves in a more favorable manner, conversely it can cause people to give off an impression that they may not have intended or that may not apply to them. This can cause misinterpretations or representations of identity, which perpetuates stereotypes and a leads to a lack of social progress.
Stereotyping is a way in which people can group like-individuals in order to make quick decisions on how to interact with that type of person. When referring to a group it is much easier to make broad assumptions and generalizations, however this means that when a person is associated with a particular stereotype they a9re labeled with generalized characteristics of the group and their individual identity is lost. In this way, stereotyping can be correlated to a form of oppression in which a person who stereotypes is dehumanizing an individual by classifying them as a generalized group instead of a unique person. Through theater, individuals are able to tell their story and share their internal narrative with others. This internal narrative gives the artist’s audience a snapshot of the artist’s identity and is a way for them to express the trials and triumphs they have faced as a fellow human. This makes theater a wonderful way for individuals who are underrepresented to not only express themselves and share their story, but to explain to their audience why they are equal as humans. In this way, theater becomes a powerful method for minority groups to advocate for equal representation and opportunities in their communities.
People are taking actions to overcome such exclusion, both white German and non-white German. Artists or students from minorities groups in Germany lead an immigrant vanguard in seeking more social inclusion by the society. The idea behind this is a different type of social activism, also called creative activism. (Want one definition of social activism from the paper we read). Young German students direct musicals “Yes We Can” and “Wedding on the Street” to examine racial issues in Germany. Director of Maxim Gorki “made a nexus for plays tackling issues like immigration, race and assimilation” in their theater so that they move daily life of ethnic minorities to a public stage. They used stage performance, a form of “human medium”, as their pathway to share their perspectives. They are seeking an echo not only among the minority group, but also in the entire society. Those efforts in self-expression of ethnic minorities and promoting creative activism are worth to gain much more insights about them.
Film is a form of self-expression that not only conveys the beliefs and attitudes of the creators, but has the potential to influence those of the audience. In this way, it is an incredibly important medium when it comes to the separation of "others" in society. Through the lens of the filmmaker, society can either be broken up into it's pieces or seen as a whole. It is my aim to look at the portrayal of immigrants in German cinema, in films produced by mainstream production companies and those produced by the demographic in question. The treatment of this often marginalized group in fictional narratives speaks volumes about the larger perceptions of their role in society, and to what prejudices come attached to this identity. The other side of film as a medium for immigrant stories are those told by the immigrants themselves. These works represent a view of the larger German society as the "other," as opposed to identifying the minority group as the "different" factor. The accessibility of film has incredible consequence in the spreading of the stereotypes or understandings it perpetuates. Thus, looking at the messages being broadcast by an entire industry is necessary in order to understand the national climate for immigrants in Germany.
Question: How does expression of identity through clothing vary across religious groups in Germany and how do societal feelings towards minority groups influence this expression?
Clothing is one of the most immediate and outward expressions of identity. Multiple assumptions can be made about a person without them even opening their mouth. Clothing is as visible as skin, hair or eye color the crucial difference being that clothing is entirely changeable and more often than not, an act of free will. Even in situations where uniforms are necessary, like a job or school, even a small amount of freedom can be used as an outward expression of one’s inner self. For example, I went to a private school from kindergarten to 8th grade. For 9 years I wore the same white polo shirt, blue sweatshirt and red and blue plaid skirt. There were no restrictions on shoe color, and I took advantage of that. In middle school, a time when self expression is rather crucial, I had over ten pairs of Converse tennis shoes in various colors, patterns and materials. I could express myself almost solely (no pun intended) through the shoes I wore and did so with vigor. My own experience with and love for fashion is what inspired me to pursue this question.
I am also religious and have found the relationship between religion and culture to be very fascinating. And although the connection between fashion and religion can be seen as weak, I feel that in many situations a person's religious identity can greatly influence the clothes they choose to put on their body. I am hoping to explore this relationship further and see the dynamic it creates within Germany.
This topic is currently very relevant in Germany. This past March, German courts overturned the ruling banning female teachers from wearing headscarves. The premise behind the law being over ruled was that it was an infringement on religious expression. However, in other parts of the world headscarves or hijabs are more than just a religious symbol. In countries like Iran, all women are required to wear headscarves and are not allowed to have their hair showing. Recently this has caused a social media movement as Iranian women remove their scarves and post pictures of themselves with their hair showing. These multiple events occurring around the world create an interesting narrative. Hijabs are seen as oppressive in many cultures, yet most Muslim women willingly choose to wear them as an expression of their religious identity.
I hope to look at this relationship, but also the way that other religious groups express their identity and the cultural influences on those expressions. The cross is a Christian symbol, yet in the United States has become a popular fashion statement both as jewelry and on clothing. How does this affect how practicing Christians relate to that symbol? I want to explore if those type of relationships exist in Berlin and if they do what is the affect they have on people and culture as a whole?
Since I have never been to or lived in Germany, I have almost no idea about German fashion. I think the hardest part for me is going to be avoiding making snap judgements about a culture that I am experiencing for the first time. I am also going to have to be conscious of my own biases towards clothes in the United States. There may be impressions and stereotypes associated with certain clothing here that do not apply in Berlin or apply in a completely different context. It I am able to get past my own stereotypes about clothing, I should be able to get a realistic and characteristic of clothing impressions within Berling.
Another biais I am worried about is only approaching certain type of people. If I am going to get a truly reflective idea of apparel stereotypes in Berlin I am going to have to talk to people from different age groups, races, genders and economic backgrounds. As a college student speaks an incredibly small amount of German I am really going to have to push myself out of my comfort zone to get an accurate picture of the culture of clothing in Berlin.
I need to be very careful about making assumptions about different religious groups. I also have to be careful not to make judgements about German culture without doing ample research.
At this point, I think most of my research will consist of interviews. The only way I will be able to learn people’s impressions and stereotypes is by asking them, so I am going to spend a lot of time interviewing people out and about in the city. I want to make sure that I speak to a wide variety of people and as a way of ensuring that I am going to spend time in different areas of Berlin. I want to interview people that are shopping in a busy mall, people that are enjoying a relaxing afternoon in a park, students from Humboldt, and so on. I think if a choose different diverse settings to interview people in then I will be able to get a sense of different impressions that exist.
Equipment wise I just need an audio recording device. I also want to take a lot of pictures. I really want to make sure that I have an idea of what Berlin fashion is like and the different flavors that can be found. I will also take my own written observations to explore what ideas I get from someone's clothes as a visitor to the city. This project has the ability to help me grow my knowledge about different religions, how fashion relates to religion and German culture as a whole, as long as a I keep my personal judgements from influencing my research.
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"Berlin Street Style." Berlin Street Style. Web. 4 June 2015.
Ingram, Susan, and Katrina Sark. Berliner Chic a Locational History of Berlin Fashion. Bristol, UK: Intellect ;, 2011. Print.
"Iranian Women Are Showing Off Their Hair As An Act Of Protest And It Is A Very Big Deal." BuzzFeed. Web. 13 June 2015.
"Haute Hijab: Online Hijab Store & Designer Clothing." Haute Hijab: Online Hijab Store & Designer Clothing. Web. 13 June 2015.
Blumberg, Antonia. "In Germany, High Court Overturns Headscarf Ban For Teachers." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 13 June 2015.