If you are into fashion or following news in Asia, you might have read that D&G cancelled a huge fashion show few hours before its launch in Shanghai. The brand and its designers received a backlash of their misbehavior and racist comments on social media. One main event on the timeline is that the company released a series of promotional videos in which an Asian, presumably Chinese, girl dressing in a glamorous red dress and clumsily using chopsticks to eat pizza and pasta, reinforcing the stereotype of submissive and innocent-to-stupid Asian girls. The audience on Chinese social media weibo was outraged for multiple reasons: the outdated stereotype, the male voiceover mispronouncing “Dolce&Gabbana” and making misogynistic jokes, and, seemingly incomprehensible to people from non-Asian culture, the appropriation of chopsticks to eat Italian food.
It was perceived as a mockery of how poorly the East and the West met in the growing market of consumption in China, therefore, not funny but offensive.
It reminds me of an assignment from Writing for the Public Realm, a class I took two years ago in Design Studies program. “Write and post a 750-word critique of a work of design, or an object from daily life, taking into account its social, political, and/or material context.” And I wrote about chopsticks. In a sentimental tone, I reflected how surprised I was when learning that many in New York have learned how to use this utensil, and I somehow mourned that this is no more unique to me.
As I re-read it a few days ago, I started to understand the confusion my classmates and possibly Susan felt back in 2016. I was not talking about design, at least not in a traditional way. I was using an object as a medium of cultural shock and disconnections. In the essay, I also mentioned that when I was sharing food with someone who doesn’t use chopsticks in his culture, I was occasionally shocked by how different we interpret a historical event, and my opinion was always considered less valued, because the country I grew up in does not have unlimited access to information.
Could I write this essay better now? Maybe. I would clarify and shorten some sentences, but I don’t want to change any main idea. My struggles of providing or getting sufficient context to confidently express myself as a non-American, a minority, and a student of design discipline will continue. Rather than thinking I haven’t acquired enough knowledge, I often find myself trying to fill the gap between political/cultural reflections and the discourse of design. While design thrives with technological innovations, our critical thinking sometimes remains to be under a culturally dominant framework.
My current project IN SYNC invites Asian female designers to tell their stories of dealing with the identity crisis. In the session of “self-knowledge”, there is one takeaway:” Sometimes you can free yourself if you don’t label your own decisions and preferences with external factors, e.g. identities, region of birth.” It is very difficult to switch from a mindset of collectivism to one of individualism, and I feel keeping open-minded alike practicing one's muscle, it's demanding. But these conversations are empowering because they are told by an Asian female to a group of Asian females. To free from an identity one has to acknowledge it first.
So boldly, I believe there’s no neutral perspective, and it has been always political. Without addressing them, one might as well stay in the bubble that design equals beauty.