Earl Tai ‘Decolonising Shanghai: Design and Material Culture in the Photographs of Hu YangR
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Earl Tai (Fig.1) – Earl Tai is a graduate in architecture and specializes in the cross-cultural design and social ethics in design and art. He holds numerous grants and certificates granted to him from prestigious institutions like Harvard, Columbia university and others. He takes part in not for profit organizations in the form of a design advisor and is currently on leave in Shanghai. (Tai, 2009)
‘It is always awkward for a designer to self-identify because it can become quite self-conscious and egotistical, so let me talk about the kind of designer I would like to be. I want to be a person who works at the intersection of design practice, design theory, education, and social justice. I would like think that I am the type of designer who is an educator/provocateur, pushing my audience to think about a topic in a new way and encouraging them to act in this world humbly and responsibly’ (Insight: Earl Tai, 2010)
In a world where colonization is a thing of the past and appropriating, consuming, adapting borrowing or just in general showing interest of different cultures is something made easy by the development of technology.
Hu Yang is a photographer that explores an interesting view of the personality by documenting people in their natural state and place and their environment. This is a more holistic and down to earth approach that has a clear aim in documenting the person at the other end of the camera, rather than trying to find a deeper meaning in the objects and images presented to the reader. This point of view is interesting and more pleasing leaving the interpretation of the image to the observer.
The author of the text, Earl Tai, analyses these images from his prism of colonization to show the advances and influences of the Western Culture into the Eastern. Looking at the photographs he analyses the objects, appearances, and behaviors of the subjects, by exposing them to the reality of colonization. He examines in detail the surrounding of a girl, the minimal sets of calligraphy, drawings and a more traditional style of living without being forced to show that. It really draws Wang Uing as a naturally more inclined towards tradition kind of person. But in contrast, another object, a CD player, draws the attention of the author which shows the subject of the photo to be influenced by Western culture.
This and the other examples are given in the text are an interesting take on how colonization may affect a culture, but I’m more inclined to thinking that small memorabilia, souvenirs, and technology may be more influenced by the needs and interest of the person, rather than a bigger outside force.
This said I find the images compelling as they show the natural habitat, architecture, and organization of their personal space. This is a way to peek into an undisturbed and natural world otherwise reserved to the people native to that specific culture.
Analysing the images of Hu Yang and looking at the interpretations and thoughts of the author we can put another idea forward. It’s interesting how decorating these homes is a for of a statement from the occupants in an attempt to showcase themselves and their interest. But when you look closer and analyse their behaviour as well we can see that they give out an inconsistent message. Incorporating this idea in design terms, when you are creating something it should communicate the correct message on all levels, so we don’t give out a mixed or confused message.
Does our personality affect our own personal surrounding?
Do you think colonization still takes part in the modern world?
gilt – covered thinly with gold leaf or gold paint.
occidentalism – is often counterpart to the term orientalism as used by Edward Said in his book of that title, which refers to and identifies Western stereotypes of the Eastern world, the Orient.
Tai, E. (2009) ‘Decolonizing Shanghai: Design and material culture in the photographs of Hu Yang’, Design Issues, 25(3), pp. 30–43. doi: 10.1162/desi.2009.25.3.30.
Insight: Earl Tai (2010) September. Available at: http://buildingthegoodcity.typepad.com/building-the-good-city/2010/05/insight-earl-tai.html (Accessed: 24 October 2016).