A Postcard from OTMA

  The Romanov princesses referred to themselves as OTMA, the first letters of each of their names. Their mother did her best to treat them and make them appear as a oneness — a group of girls, rather than individuals. They were dressed alike and often even referred to by their names. This postcard shows how close they were. In the hopes for a boy, the four princesses were born in quick succession. The girls were the most photographed princesses in the world and a major public and private disappointment. They grew up in opulence and extravagance that is almost unrivaled. Yet there...

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Tattoo Comb

    There are traditions of tattooing women and girls all over the world. Usually, tattoos mark the time of transition from girlhood to womanhood, just after puberty. And for females, it seems that the placement of the tattoos are in very visible and sensitive parts of the body: the chin, lips, forehead, fingers and abdomen. One of the largest and most intense is the malu from Samoa. The malu covers the legs from just under the bottom to the tops of the knees. This traditional tattooing comb was made in Samoa by an unknown tufuga tatatau (tattooing expert). Tattooing in Samoa is...

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Suffragettes Defaced Penny

  When you think of suffragettes, what comes to mind? Women picketing in front of the white house, holding signs and wearing purple sashes. A young woman stepping in front of a horse, willingly sacrificing herself in order to bring attention to the cause. Defacing cultural sites, such as The Rokeby Venus (a painting in the National Gallery) or a mummy case in teh British Museum. Secret meetings, whispered rumors, and late night speeches hurriedly delivered before the police could arrive. Scenes from a movie, to be sure. Yet the true power of suffragettes wasn’t their most public...

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Less than a micromini: Cache-sexe Zulu

  What if you could tell your gender age and marital status just from your clothes? Well, in most cultures, you can. What we wear tells the rest of our communities what our exactly place is within it. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, modesty norms are very different to those prescribed to Western cultures. Wearing next to nothing in such a hot climate is not a sign of promiscuity, but garments like the cache-sexe or ‘modesty belt’ say a lot about the wearer’s culture. The term cache-sexe was used by the French, so it comes up in those areas of Africa colonized by the French. There are...

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A Postcard from Tubo’u

  Postcards were popular ways for photographers to share images of Empire back to the home country. The cabinet card style of portraiture became fashionable from about 1870. Images of colonized landscapes and people helped those back home to take ownership and believe they had a bit of understanding of faraway places and cultures. Very often, it was young women or girls who were photographed to demonstrate the perceived vulnerability and exotic, coquettish ways of the colonies. These females become unknown symbols of submission. But least we know her name—Tubo’u. Here, she is...

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School Rewards

  In the Victorian period boys were more important than girls, were taught different lessons and so achieved more. Or did they? Before camera phones, Instagram, and snapchat having your photograph taken was a big deal. You would have visited a professional photographer’s studio, worn your best clothes and stood completely still for the long minutes it took for a photograph to be taken in the 1800’s. Photographs were very expensive to have taken and so you would only have had one done for a special occasion such as a marriage, christening, or to celebrate an achievement. This photograph...

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