Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child under the sun. When she was twelve years old, the enchantress shut her into a tower, had neither stairs nor door, but quite at the top was a little window. When the enchantress wanted to go in, she placed herself beneath it and cried: "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let down your hair to me."
Deepika Padukone as Rapunzel Ali Zafar as the Prince
For quite some time now, my favorite painting has been “The Birth of Venus” by Sandro Botticelli. This is a classic western painting that has become symbolic of ideal beauty in the art world & in pop culture. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to see the actual painting in Florence, and ever since I was curious to create my own “desi remix”. Recently, there’s been a lot of conversations about westerners “borrowing” eastern cultures, so I thought why not “easternize” a classic western painting? A lot of my work has a heavy indian influence, so for inspiration I started looking through all my old indian story books. India has such a rich history of story telling, the art of epics & folk tales has become the base of our culture. This is why I wanted my translation to be connected to a tale most indians would recognize.
In my research, I came across a painting by Raja Ravi Varma depicting king Shantanu and his queen, Satyavati from the Mahabharata. Satyavati was the daughter of a fisherman, a commoner who made a living helping her father fish. It was said that people always noted the stench of fish exuding from her body. She was known for this stench until she met a priest who exchanged her foul smell for one so fragrant it made her smell alluring from far away (which is what lead king Shantanu to her). Similar to the original Birth of Venus, there is a question of what we consider beautiful. Satyavati was a commoner but was beautiful enough for a king. Whether by her smell, looks, physical or internal beauty, beauty is more than just godly or divine, which classic paintings have traditionally lead us to believe. In light of beauty in south asian culture today, there has been much talk about sexuality and breaking free from the stereotypical image of south asian women being shy and obedient by instead showing beauty in the strength of a woman’s actions and not being ashamed of her body. Physical beauty has typically been something that is celebrated in western art, but it’s something we shy away from especially in south asian culture. This is why I want the viewer not only to see the visual depiction of Satyavati’s story but to see power in all aspects of Satyavati’s being: the ugliness of her now beautiful stench, her humble beginnings and background as a working woman, her body in both the physical and spiritual sense, internal and external self, and her allure as a woman.
It’s funny how throughout time we keep trying to define beauty and place parameters on something that is ever changing and unbound. It truly is in the eye of the beholder.
Illustration based on The Queen’s Necklace, an Indian tale.
“Le cortège de Dalim Kumar […] arriva au palais; et le roi et la reine Suo allèrent à la rencontre de leur fils perdu depuis si longtemps. Inutile de dire à quel point leur joie était intense. Ils tombèrent dans les bras les uns des autres et se mirent à pleurer.”
As always, please be respectful of other people’s cultures. For the record, I am part Native American and am fine with people using these objects for historical challenges, I believe they are part of mankind’s patrimony and should be admired and celebrated as long as they are treated with care and dignity.
“The name code talkers is strongly associated with bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater. Code talking, however, was pioneered by Cherokee and Choctaw Indians during World War I.
Other Native American code talkers were deployed by the United States Army during World War II, including Lakota, Meskwaki, and Comanche soldiers. Soldiers of Basque ancestry were also used for code talking by the U.S. Marines during World War II in areas where other Basque speakers were not expected to be operating.
The last surviving Seminole code talker, Edmond Harjo of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, died on March 31, 2014, at the age of 96. Harjo had served as far afield as Normandy and the Battle of Iwo Jima during the war.”
Anonymous said: Hello! I’m doing research about the Native American mythological character Coyote. I’m using different stories from the book “American Indian Trickster Tales” to create a composite character for my book. He is meant to represent chaos overall and how it can lead to change, temporary or otherwise. I’m worried that this can become/is an issue, even though the character himself is recognized among many different groups and is characterized similarly in many of their in their stories. Your thoughts?
You seem to be hinting that you want to know whether this will be “cultural appropriation.” In writing this particular story, you will need to research whether your choices are appropriate, not appropriated.
To create a foundation for research that produces an inherently non-offensive work, the key is simple: approach the culture as a people, not a subject. When you look at it as a subject you want to research the facts in a clinical manner that focuses on accuracy. When you look at a culture for what it is (a people),you focus on personal experiences in your research, planting empathy, relatability, and immersion into your story.
It’s not that you should ignore being correct, it’s that you shouldn’t make correctness your point. It’s that People Of Color need representation, not a presentation. They don’t need you to learn about the nuances of their heritage, they need you to empathize with them and they need characters and stories to relate to. If your point was to educate someone about a culture, you would be writing anthropological journals, not fiction.
Now, onto Coyote specifically. I could give you booklists, but an online search can do that for you. So I’ll tell you this instead: When researching Coyote, it will be safest to assume that everything you know to be true is not and never was and not just because he is a trickster. Rather, the values you were raised with (and write about) and take for granted are probably not the same as his. You need to be conscious of whether the culture behind this folklore actually agrees with the message of your story. Be sensitive to the following opinions.
These in particular are relevant to chaos and change:
Whether change and progress is good, or tradition and heritage is more important.
Whether there is more merit to having a stable life than an ideal one.
Whether or not being fatalistic is a good thing.
Whether it is sinful to look forward to the future.
Whether inheritance and social standing is a birthright, not a coincidence.
Whether shortcomings can come from bad luck.
Whether it is insulting to your fellow social class to choose to move up in the world.
Whether one is personally responsible for being a good, moral person.
I do not know what your values are, but if the culture you’re using turns out to DISAGREE with most/everything you’re trying to say, is it truly respectful to use that culture anyway to satisfy your personal message?
If in the end you want to use other Chaos gods/spirits, try these popular guys on for size: Ti Malice, Anansi, Legba, Chung Kuel, Kishijoten, Ptah, or Oghma.