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Eastern vs. western culture, in icons
October 6, 2007 9:36 AM   Subscribe

An art exhibition depicting some of the differences between eastern and western culture, using iconography. Examples include but are not limited to “opinions,” “waiting in a queue,” and “leaders.” And a couple more.
posted by tepidmonkey (42 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is very cool. Thank you.
posted by tkolar at 9:57 AM on October 6, 2007


Enjoy these, the fun of them, while feeling also somewhat uncomfortable they are contemporary signage of racial stereotypes.
posted by nickyskye at 9:59 AM on October 6, 2007


superb, thanks!
posted by infini at 10:05 AM on October 6, 2007


I like.
posted by Bugbread at 10:28 AM on October 6, 2007


The transportation one is ominous.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:32 AM on October 6, 2007


These are nice.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:32 AM on October 6, 2007


These are neato. Nice post. I like the "fashion" one.

And nickyskye, pish posh. People living in different places develop different cultures, have different histories, and do things differently.

Noticing that things are different != racism. Shutting our eyes to things that are different isn't accurate or moral. There's nothing here saying that we should discriminate against Germans or Chinese, or that one group is inferior to the other; it's a charming series of generalizations about real and perceived differences. It's better than bad, it's good. Hooray!
posted by ibmcginty at 10:48 AM on October 6, 2007


Selective representation. You could just as easily substitute "Italy" for "the East" in most of those pictures, particularly "waiting in a queue."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:52 AM on October 6, 2007


Yes, it's definitely "China meets Germany" rather than "East meets West" here, but ever so cute.
posted by nowonmai at 10:57 AM on October 6, 2007


Upon further reflection... I've been living for a little while in an area in which I'm a white minority among a black majority. On account of that, I've grown much more comfortable talking about cultural differences.

My friends and co-workers here would think I was being a huge weirdo if I tried to insist that there's no difference between what I was used to where I grew up and how things work here, and how I talk versus how they talk, and how I look versus how they look. (I was still pretty shocked and scandalized when a black coworker termed the desire for a post-lunch nap "niggeritis," though).

There are differences, some for better, some for worse, and to pretend otherwise would require more cognitive dissonance than I'm currently willing to engage in.

And these pictures are by "Liu Yang, a Chinese-born German designer." Of course it's selective representation; it's this guy's take on differences he's noticed in his own life! Chill out, dudes!
posted by ibmcginty at 11:05 AM on October 6, 2007


Noticing that things are different != racism

No, not what I said. I do feel somewhat uncomfortable when it comes to ethnic stereotyping because it has in the past and can lead to "justification of ill-founded prejudices or ignorance".
posted by nickyskye at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2007


These are really neat, especially the ones about children and parties. They're the kind of cultural norms you don't think of as norms until you're in a situation where they're not.
posted by Tehanu at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2007


See, German people walk like this, and Chinese people walk like this.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2007


This is great. I'd love to see comparisons like this for more countries.

tkolar: I'd email you to say this, but can't with no email in your profile, so -- You're back! I'm glad. Welcome back.
posted by salvia at 12:09 PM on October 6, 2007


Fair enough, nickyskye, but this seems harmless and fun to me.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:21 PM on October 6, 2007


Heh, the "On Time" graphic is my favorite. Great find tepidmonkey!
posted by saturnine at 12:48 PM on October 6, 2007


Forgive my ignorance of Chinese stereotypes, but can someone explain the anger icon? It seems to be saying that Germans get angry when someone is angry, and Chinese people become happy at someone else's anger. Am I close?
posted by nzero at 1:49 PM on October 6, 2007


I think it's more like: on the left, I am actually angry, and my face reflect that. Where as on the right, I am feeling angry, but I'll smile anyways.
posted by phyrewerx at 2:07 PM on October 6, 2007


nzero: I contemplated that one a bit. I think it's saying that Germans, when angry, express themselves with outward anger, and Chinese, when angry, will suppress the anger and project outward happiness. I think if I were a bicultural Chinese-German I would instantly understand, so I may have it all wrong.

Also, what ibmcginty said. He's from China and lives in Germany, so those are the local differences he's expressing.

uncomfortable they are contemporary signage of racial stereotypes.

Isn't art supposed to confront what makes us uncomfortable? Otherwise, what the hell is the point?
posted by dhartung at 2:11 PM on October 6, 2007


uncomfortable they are contemporary signage of racial stereotypes.

Are you serious? Get a helmet...
posted by autodidact at 3:05 PM on October 6, 2007


dhartung, not seeing confrontational in this art, more an amusing reiteration of stereotypes being compared: Germans on time, Chinese not. Germans forthright, Chinese oblique. Germans quiet, Chinese noisy, Germans organised, Chinese disorganised, Germans individualists, Chinese hive minded.

Not a far stetch, Germans Aryan featured, Jews hook nosed, White folks reading books, black folks playing basketball.

I do think parts of this art are fun, playful and informative, like attitudes about child rearing or party styles, as tehanu mentioned. But there is an ethnic stereotyping thing going on here and it leaves me feeling a bit queasy, not challenged.

Humans tend to compare everything. But that comparing needs to be done in such a way so that groups of people aren't pegged negatively and that devolving into denigrating prejudice.

That said, I do find these images amusing but there is a shadow feeling simultaneously about stereotyping that I think is worth being aware of and cautious about.
posted by nickyskye at 3:16 PM on October 6, 2007


What about the "Images of Each Other" entry? Isn't the artist poking fun at each group's stereotypes of the other?
posted by salvia at 3:25 PM on October 6, 2007


I find it weird and worrying that people are so uncomfortable with this excellent work. It is surely of the utmost importance that we learn to see and respect the many and different ways there are of being. The "Self" image points directly to one very important distinction, which is often ignore, producing shambolic understanding of the other. Thanks for the link!
posted by fcummins at 3:58 PM on October 6, 2007


I'm not "so uncomfortable with this excellent work", I feel ambivalent.

learn to see and respect the many and different ways there are of being

There are probably infinite ways of being and also a long human history of using ethnic stereotypes to harm others or as part of misunderstanding others.
posted by nickyskye at 4:57 PM on October 6, 2007


I guess, nickyskye, your rationale reminds me of omiewise's on the HIV- thread. You're both fighting very important battles, but they are battles that need not be fought in every single situation.
posted by ibmcginty at 5:22 PM on October 6, 2007


LOL, I'm not fighting a battle. yikes. Incredible that having an ambivalent feeling is taken completely out of proportion.

That my ambivalence about comparing German stereotypes with Chinese stereotypes is now compared to OmieWise on another thread about HIV shows exactly what my ambivalence is based on, misunderstanding when there is bald comparison. His comments and mine have nothing in common that I can see. As would be said in German, jede vergleich hinkt, the comparison limps.
posted by nickyskye at 5:47 PM on October 6, 2007


Fair enough. Let's agree to maybe mildly disagree.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:17 PM on October 6, 2007


dhartung, not seeing confrontational in this art, more an amusing reiteration of stereotypes being compared: Germans on time, Chinese not. Germans forthright, Chinese oblique. Germans quiet, Chinese noisy, Germans organised, Chinese disorganised, Germans individualists, Chinese hive minded.

Hmmm... I think some of what you are seeing Nicky is a reflection of your own views on what is "positive" and "negative."

For example, you could just as easily frame it as making the *Chinese* seem "better"-- ie, not "individualist" v. "hive-minded," but Germans "selfish" versus Chinese "community-oriented;" not Germans organized and Chinese disorganized, but Germans rigid and Chinese mellow.. Germans obsessed with time, Chinese "in the moment," Germans hostile, Chinese "turning the other cheek," etc.

It all depends on how you read the graphics and how you frame the various qualities yourself. So it plays with your own perception of what is good and what isn't (which of course, is partially culturally determined), and I think that makes it worthwhile.
posted by Maias at 6:26 PM on October 6, 2007 [3 favorites]


Comparisons are often, usually, made so as to see which one is better.

is a reflection of your own views on what is "positive" and "negative."

No, Maias, I referred in my comment to the Western stereotyping of Chinese with a bias towards German ways of doing things, not my own bias. It could just as easily be reversed, seen from the Chinese bias, as you described.

Having spent a decade in Asia I'm familiar with Eastern stereotyping of Westerners and having returned West am familiar with Western stereotyping of Easterners. There is a long history in the world of the dangers of ethnic stereotyping on either side of the perspective.

I've never said this art is not worthwhile. I've said it is fun, that I've enjoyed it, while ALSO feeling ambivalent about the dangers inherent in ethnic stereotyping.

Not black, not white, not all good nor all bad. But holding BOTH concepts in my mind at once, fun images with simultaneous potential for stereotyping.
posted by nickyskye at 7:18 PM on October 6, 2007


I don't get the Chinese side of the party graphic. Is it typical for everyone to stand around in a big circle instead of mingling around?
posted by emelenjr at 8:26 PM on October 6, 2007


emelenjr, the Chinese social relations entry on Wikipedia doesn't really do justice to your question.

In my own experience with Tibetans (now politically a part of China but culturally distinct from China in some ways and similar in others) a party or get together is less about intimate conversational splinter groups mingling in small couples or mini-groups but more about a sense of group celebration, family and presence, a feeling of group solidarity.

In India this is also the case with rural Indians but less common with urban Indians, who have adopted some aspects of Western communication styles.
posted by nickyskye at 8:49 PM on October 6, 2007


I don't get the Chinese side of the party graphic. Is it typical for everyone to stand around in a big circle instead of mingling around?
posted by emelenjr


The round Chinese party graphic alludes to a large round banquet table which is the scene of a traditional party, a large meal shared with multi-generations of family and friends. The concept of a standup cocktail party where you mill and mingle is pretty untraditional.
posted by Keith Talent at 8:53 PM on October 6, 2007


emelenjr: From my memory of Bhutan (a good enough approximation for the chinese/tibetan social norms?), parties used to culminate in a giant circle-dance with everyone holding hands and chanting. This is from childhood, so I don't recollect whether it was an important traditional activity or just random horsing around. Some links which seem to describe the sort of thing I remember: Song and dance, Guoxie.

Great post, thanks tepidmonkey. I loved the Images of Each Other one.
posted by stumbling at 9:52 PM on October 6, 2007


To my eyes the freshness and cleverness of these images, combined with the background of the artist, are exactly the attributes which raise them above any accusations of stereotyping. Stereotypes aren't original and people who espouse them usually have no clue what they're talking about - neither of which criticisms can be applied in this case.
posted by plenty at 5:21 AM on October 7, 2007


(I was still pretty shocked and scandalized when a black coworker termed the desire for a post-lunch nap "niggeritis," though).

He needs to become informed vis a vis the Spanish.

And for that matter, all truly civilized nations do have a post-lunch nap period. I sure wish Canada were that civilized.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:54 PM on October 7, 2007


Not to be a downer, but the images were all trite, simplistic, cutesy, compromising any real thought for a cursory glance and a humoristic approach to discussion. I agree with what nickyskye's talking about.

Asian cultures are roundabout, based on non-direct forms of interaction and a focus on the multitude over the individual? Western cultures are direct and punctual? Asian and Western cultures both seek to imitate/emulate the other in certain fashions?

Haven't we all heard this before? Whatever truth there might be is just caricatured into oblivion. It doesn't help that the visual language used to representing such ideas is a Western one, either.
posted by suedehead at 3:35 AM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, it helps a great deal that the visual language used was Western, because that's his target audience. D-oh.

I also find it a little retarded to say things like "ooh, it was too simply, it didn't promote discussion and understanding." (A) It just promoted one helluva lot of discussion on MeFi and (B) They're freakin' signs: if they weren't simple, they wouldn't be the art that they are.

It's like beefing that Monet's water lilies weren't in sharp focus, ergo weren't an accurate depiction of the pond. Talk about missing the point!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:27 AM on October 8, 2007


D-oh

Not. The images are labeled in both German and Chinese.

retarded

They're not signs, the images are comparisons.
posted by nickyskye at 11:52 AM on October 8, 2007


Meh. They're icons. You can't expect too much out of them. Or shouldn't, at any rate.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:28 PM on October 8, 2007


Nor, for that matter, read too much into them.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:18 PM on October 8, 2007


The designer is a woman.

Part of this uncomfortable feeling I get is that the language of signage that she appropriates is used explicitly to visually describe a universal applicability. You know, that's the point of having nondescript black stick figures - it's supposed to transcend language barriers. In this case, paired with these statements it turns everything it touches into a stereotype exactly because of that universal applicability.

The comparison with Monet is a wrong one: Impressionism was all about depicting individual and subjective perception. In this case, the design is all about removing an air of subjectivity. The pictures are nothing but a wordless set of vaguely truthful cultural differences from her perspective, turned into caricatures and stereotypes due to the visual language they use. If they had been her own hand-drawn characters, maybe things might have been a tad more interesting, but since nuance and subtlety and the sense of a personal viewpoint is gone -- forget it, it's done for.

Meh. They're icons. You can't expect too much out of them. Or shouldn't, at any rate.

Icons are the vehicle, the message is the destination. Isn't that kind of like saying "They're just words, you can't expect too much out of a book."?
posted by suedehead at 1:33 PM on October 8, 2007


suedehead : "Haven't we all heard this before?"

Yes, but novelty is only one kind of enjoyment. There are some novel things which are not enjoyable, and some non-novel things which are. Some of us find these enjoyable, and some of these don't, but I seriously doubt those of us who like this are laboring under the misapprehension that they're novel.
posted by Bugbread at 5:55 PM on October 8, 2007


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