Upon the return of an old Japanese soul to planet earth, if it were to find itself on the western hemisphere — midtown Manhattan, Milan or in a secluded town of Minnesota — watching a multitude of individuals wearing torn jeans and seeing these garment pieces in store windows with similar or even more expensive price tags than for those untorn, perplexed it would wonder why.
Before Levi Strauss began producing legendary samples of durable denim, later joined by the tailor Jacob Davis, with the idea of adding copper rivets to pant pockets for reinforcement; before blue denim became a symbol amongst subcultures in the 1950s and through the 80s, after having been available only to workers; and a couple of centuries before denim would become fashionable in their torn state, boro (or boroboro) was the Japanese denim, made out of hemp fabrics in indigo blue or other dyes available to the common people. Towards the latter part of the Edo period (1603-1868), these garments would be worn for decades, mended, patched together, and passed on from generation to generation. It was a time of prosperity, as well as one of strict social divide, during which silk and cotton were reserved for a select circle within the upper class, leaving less desired textiles for the peasant.
Boroboro, the Japanese term used for something in tatters or repaired, are the garment pieces which were exhibited at the Ace Hotel in New York, in partnership with Outsider Art Fair in early 2019, curated by Atzuko Barouh, and loaned from the Gallery Kojima, in Japan.
Being the admirer of wabi-sabi, as I have been for decades, it was pure delight to witness beauty radiating from ugliness in such a genuine sociohistorical context. Hues and textures demanded contemplation, providing cultural understanding, and most certainly provoking thoughts on our present-day use of torn clothes, worn as desirable stylish fashion.
Wabi-Sabi, yet another layer in Japanese culture, is a philosophical aesthetic approach that began emerging out of Buddhism towards the fifteenth century, aiming to awaken an appreciation for the soul of things which are ugly and unfinished in their appearance. It stood in contrast to contemporaneous ideals of richness, and admiration for ornaments, gold, and silver.
Detached from a society wishing to forget dark times of exclusion and oppression, the exhibited pieces evoked the feeling of being in a museum filled with paintings of old Italian masters. However, only this exhibition puts boro in the realm of wabi-sabi. In the soul of the Japanese, appreciating the ugly has not extended into an appreciation for boroboro — not during the Edo period, and not today.
History repeats, not because it has power over us reliving it. It does not. Life cycles cannot be determined by it unless we fail in the learning process. We relive history anew because we may not opt to draw constructively from the common conscience it has built, and choose rather to follow trends without the necessary inquisitiveness as to meaning and origin of what makes them. The wearing of sagging pants at the hip, instead of resting at waist level, originates from the US-American prison community, and yet it has found acceptance and created a lucrative industry in the popular culture of the free man. Today, torn and patched jeans are an embarrassment to the Japanese who see a reminder of their poverty of yesteryear, while the western fashionista sees it as a stylish symbol of free personal expression.
The exhibition "Beauty in Imperfection" was at Ace Hotel, New York, in partnership with the Outsider Art Fair, curated by Atsuko Barouh. The pieces where a loan from Gallery Kojima, Tokyo
All photographs - Sila Blume, Copyright 2019
Camera: Sigma DP2 Merrill