I’m sure there have been no end of articles and blog posts about ゼンタイ zentai: skin tight, faceless body suits. Originally they’re from Japan, of course, like many other cross-cultural mutations. The term is an abbreviation of 全身タイツ zenshin taitsu, “full body tights”. It’s also a safe bet that most of these articles fall into the categories of a) LOL weirdos b) LOL perverts or c) both of the aforementioned. Frankly, I would advise against uncontrolled internet searching on the subject unless you’re broad-minded because some of the people who are into it are absolute FREAKS and you might well see some obscure corners of the porn world that you’d really rather not. Also beware of YouTube’s “up next” autoplay…
Being an absolute freak is fine by me, actually (just wash your hands and probably have a shower too, before you do anything else) but perhaps especially for those who are creeped out by the whole thing, it’s worth watching the completely non-pervy and un-LOLZ-seeking Singaporean short film embedded here– Zentai Walk Documentation. Its participants, zentai-wearers all, have some very intelligent and insightful things to say about the suit’s erasure of racial and national signifiers, their reasons for enjoying zentai, the political and social implications of masks, and the paradoxical, simultaneous attention-seeking narcissism and humility or lack of ego that are required to step out in public wearing a peculiar costume. I have some experience of these issues as a performer, although fortunately for the public’s poor, blameless eyes I’ve never yet done any zentai.
The video relates to a zentai festival taking place in Singapore this April and May. This year’s public zentai walk takes place on the 23rd May. Check out the site for some more relatively wholesome information about zentai.
I was left with one burning question after watching the film, however. We see several of the people buying food, drink, or other items. So apart from the lady in the black suit and pink wig, who very sensibly has a backpack, where are all the others keeping their wallets and money?
On reflection it’s probably best not to think about it too much, unless you’re into that kind of thing.
Jukumari, Musée du quai Branly, Paris. Photo by Alistair Gentry.
Final selection of bizarre, beautiful costumes from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. The museum’s text:
The Andean “bespectacled” bear, the Jukumari, lives at different ecological levels of the Andean cordilera. For this reason he is seen as a mediator between different entities, god-like and human, or different human groups. He is present in several dances from the Andes in Bolivia, in particular the Diablada and the the Morenada. In the Diablada he has a playful role: he is the character that chats and interacts with the public. The Jukumari evolved into a polar bear.
No kidding. Other additions in the category of artistic license include the dainty yellow hanky (er… don’t look up hanky codes if you don’t know what they are already. You’re OK not knowing), the strings of pearls (stop it), the bat face, and the epaulettes. Epaulettes on a bear are definitely fabulous, but a real spectacled bear looks like this:
He does not care in the slightest about epaulettes, silk hankies, gold braiding or sequins. He will bite your face off if you attempt to style him in any manner whatsoever. Jukumari, on the other paw, is into all of the aforementioned and more, nudge nudge, wink wink, know what I mean?
Ñaupa Diablo, Musée du quai Branly, Paris. Photo by Alistair Gentry.
More excellent masks from the Musée du quai Branly in Paris… and these ones come with splendid matching outfits. In the previous post on this subject, there was an early twentieth century carnival mask from Oruro, Bolivia. This time I have some relatively modern masks and costumes from the same carnival for you. All the photographs are mine. Here’s a translation of the museum’s blurb:
Performed during the carnival in the mining town of Oruro, the Diablada dance fuses Catholic and indigenous beliefs, depicting Lucifer escorted by a legion of male and female demons, and the Archangel Michael as the leader of the angel host. The characters in the dance are derived from the Catholic religion’s struggle between good and evil, which ends in the victory of the angels. However, in this dance, the “devil” in all his forms (Lucifer, his variant Ñaupa Diablo, his wife China Supay, and male and female devils) incarnates a positive force, linked to the Amerindian underworld divinity Supay, the giver of gifts.
The devil has all the best clothes and all the best tunes. I love these costumes. Maybe not for casual daywear, though. I’m not sure how I’d integrate sequinned breastplates, huge twisted horns and this much gold braiding with the rest of my wardrobe.
Final selection from the book Masks: Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly. I apologise for the Devil Son mask I showed you last time. Hopefully you’ve recovered now. How about a sort-of cute tiger?
Lacquered wood mask of a tiger, State of Guerrero, Mexico, circa 1970.
This mask was made using the rayado technique. Two layers of lacquer are superimposed, then one is partially removed to produce this two-tone effect. If you look closely you’ll see that the markings aren’t random; they form the shapes of birds, rabbits, deer and other animals.
Plaster and cloth moreno mask from Oruro, Bolivia, early 20th century.
Moreno masks represent the exhausted, sickly African slaves who worked in the plantations and mines of Bolivia. They’re worn during the mining city of Oruro’s carnival. The masks, I mean. Not Africans.
“You’re my wife now”
Some of the more unnerving examples from the book Masks: Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly. (previous post here)
Wooden mask, carved by a shaman in Nepal. The original caption says it verges on abstraction, but it also verges on bloody terrifying.
Wooden mask from Java, 19th century. This fellow is probably Klana Sewandana, the hero’s rival in wayang topeng plays.
O hai, it’s only me, the Devil’s son. Just carry on. I’m made of cloth, goat hair and somebody’s teeth. I come from Mexico.
Ammassalimiut (Greenland) fur mask for a child, associated with Christian Epiphany celebrations. Because nothing says “Jesus” more than hideous slit mouths and inky black eyes, obviously. 1920s-1930s.
Japanese Noh masks
Obeshimi (demon mask), wood, Japan, mid 19th century.
A few months ago I visited the very inspiring Musée du quai Branly in Paris. I recommend it to anybody who is interested in anthropology or ethnography. Or disconcerting masks and dolls, because they have tons of those. They’ve published a great book called Masks: Masterpieces from the musée du quai Branly. The text is by the splendidly named Yves Le Fur, with photos by Sandrine Expilly. I’m going to reproduce a few scans, but the book is worth a look if– as mentioned previously– you’re one of those creepy mask people like me. I’ll also be sharing some of my own photos from the collection. All the ones by me will be clearly marked, otherwise credit goes to Expilly.
This time I’m concentrating on Noh (能) masks from Japan. Noh is the extremely formalised theatre that originated in Japan about seven hundred years ago. Some of the masks are used to play different characters from the repertory. A few are cleverly designed to change their expression depending upon the direction of lighting or the angle of the performer’s head. These masks are usually treated with great respect by the performers. The Obeshimi mask above is used in five different plays. Mostly it is used to represent a demon, but it can also play Dairokuten, one of the ten kings of the hells.
It’s Aquacade beauty Mussolini, photographer’s model Stalin, and charming salesgirl Hitler. With huge butcher knives, on Manhattan Beach. Photographed by Weegee, better known for his horrifying, stark, brutal photos of crime and accident scenes in New York City; less well known as being the vocal blueprint for Peter Sellers’ strangled, adenoidal Dr. Strangelove voice. Perhaps for Weegee, taking photos of scantily clad transsexual dictators amounted to light relief.
The caption notes that the “comely pyramid is spoiled by the faces”, but that’s quite a heteronormative assumption to make, don’t you think? Perhaps the faces are being spoiled by the comely pyramid?