Appreciation or Appropriation?

 

Linh Dinh

Australia finds itself in a peculiar position when compared to the rest of the world. Situated in the middle of the Asia Pacific with a population that is increasingly ethnically and culturally diverse, there is often a blurred line to what ideas, objects and signs belong to the East and to the West. As we wander through public realms, examples of themed ‘Asian’ architecture captivate our attention and cater to an alluring experience that is different to the ordinary.

Let’s take the Perth Night Noodle Markets as an example, held earlier this year from March 22 to April 2 and an event I attended myself one Friday night.[1] Upon entering the venue, I was transported to what deemed as an “Asian hawkers market, plus the vibe of a huge outdoor festival”. [2] This was indeed exemplified as the site of Elizabeth Quay was revamped into a culinary playground and in the glowing displays of lanterns that decorated the vast horizon. The night promised of “Asian themed entertainment” which was delivered in the form of a lion dance, which was rambunctious and boisterous as they usually are. [3] Amongst the rhythmic drums, cymbals, gongs and the popping of almost deafening fire crackers, I was brought back to Tét, the Vietnamese lunar new year festival and the most important celebration in my culture. I was reminded of lì xì, the red envelopes that were passed to me from my elders as a wish for a prosperous year to come. Yet, Tét had already passed for this year and this event was two months too late. In retrospect, was this whole evening a display of forged Oriental culture to pursue consumption or was the event a genuine expression of appreciation for all Asian culture and architecture?

The Age newspaper described the Night Noodle Markets as an expedition through Asia, as you “graze your way around a different part of Asia every night.” [4] This line of thought may draw parallels to the theory of orientalism; a phenomenon that brings the spectator to a Westernised ‘collective daydream’ of the Orient by adopting Oriental aesthetics as a form of visual enticement. [5] The Night Noodle Markets use copious techniques such as lighting and familiar Asian iconography to simulate an Asian hawkers market, creating an experience that almost seems as authentic. An exploration through the night will allow you to see, taste, hear and feel an “Oriental” environment that quite successfully triggers the emotions and memories of a foreign place that is not Elizabeth Quay… But not quite Hanoi, Vietnam either…

Architecture, spaces and places do not simply exist but are subject to perpetual restructure and definition by its users and its context, may it be social, political, economical. Events such as the Perth Night Noodle Markets hold different significances to different people, but sometimes they become synonymous with what Asia is. Orientalism is a heavily debated topic within architectural discourse, and the answer of whether something is a form of appreciation or appropriation is not always conclusive. But, questioning the ways in which Western and Asian cultures are interwoven into imaginative realms in Perth may reveal a number of secondary connections and parallels to historic and even Orientalist ideals. Is it an appropriation or appreciation? This is a useful question to contemplate as we aspire to make the future of architecture more culturally inclusive and sensitive.

 

 

References

[1] “Perth Night Noodle Markets,” Good Food Month, accessed August 15, 2017, https://www.goodfoodmonth.com/perth/noodles/

[2] “Night Noodle Markets” MRA (Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority), assessed August 15, 2017, https://www.mra.wa.gov.au/see-and-do/elizabeth-quay/events/night-noodle-markets-at-elizabeth-quay

[3] David Prestipino “Perth Night Noodle Markets: Your Ultimate Guide” The Age (2017) accessed on August 16, 2017, http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/your-perth/2017-perth-night-noodle-markets-your-ultimate-guide-20170322-gv3kwo.html?deviceType=text

[4] David Prestipino “Perth Night Noodle Markets: Your Ultimate Guide” The Age (2017) accessed on August 16, 2017, http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/your-perth/2017-perth-night-noodle-markets-your-ultimate-guide-20170322-gv3kwo.html?deviceType=text

[5] Cigdem, The Use of Orientalist Stereotypes and the Production of Kitsch, 109.