Fast-forward to 2012, however, and a Sri Lankan-British woman is showing us exactly who she is and where she’s from in a music video that has garnered more than a hundred million views on YouTube. “My chain hits my chest / When I’m bangin’ on the dashboard / My chain hits my chest / When I’m bangin’ on the radio,” MIA sings in the 2012 music video for her song “Bad Girls”. The chain in question is made up of gold beads, with a slightly larger gold sphere as a pendant, and hangs nearly to her waist. When she sings, ‘Hands up, hands tied,’ she crosses her wrists over her head, and half her left forearm is stacked with gold bangles. When the song came out, MIA, whose real name is Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, was one of the only South Asian women in the Western entertainment industry regarded as having equal artistic legitimacy, value and visibility to her white counterparts. Much of her music discussed her roots and identity as a Tamil woman, and her appearance and stylistic choices reflected that. Her elaborate gold chain and stacked bangles, for example, were nearly identical to the ones I’ve seen wrapped around the necks and wrists of my mother, my grandmothers, and my aunts for as long as I can remember. At a time when I was going out of my way to render my culture and heritage invisible, MIA made hers impossible to ignore.
Slowly, I began to question why I felt that outward expressions of culture and identity should be reserved for specific settings. Why did I feel certain parts of who I was should be limited to wherever I felt they blended in best? That just because I didn’t see them in the spaces I inhabited or aspired to be in, they shouldn’t be there at all? Identity, to me, after years of constantly shifting, always half-hidden and compromised, became a solid entity. Heritage and culture became something to be shown off and taken pride in, not tucked away at the bottom of my jewellery box.
Seeing other South Asian women in the public eye embrace this same mentality changed how I confronted it myself. If you look through her Instagram page, British singer-songwriter Joy Crookes rotates through a never ending variety of ornate, flashy gold earrings in traditional South Asian designs. Crookes, who is of Bangladeshi-Irish heritage, has also worn culturally-specific headpieces and body jewellery in covers for a number of her recent singles and on red carpets. On one of the many necklaces she wears is a gold pendant featuring the Ka’bah, Islam’s most sacred site. Raveena Aurora, an American-Indian singer and songwriter, poses and performs in costumes that combine Western clothing with statement pieces of traditional jewellery, an East-West fusion of sorts. British-Indian model Neelam Gill also often dresses up in gold jewellery, often going for more intricate pieces, including nose chains and full jewellery sets.
In wearing culturally-specific jewellery so far from the contexts and spaces in which they’re traditionally worn, young South Asian women in the spotlight are taking part in an expression of identity that feels powerful to those who have felt compelled to obscure the very same parts of themselves. For these women, there is no picking and choosing which aspects of their identity belong where. Untangling the two gold necklaces I now wear everyday, twisting the heavy, shiny pendants away from each other, I feel the same way. All the parts of us belong wherever we choose to take them. Gold, in all the iterations we know it best – long necklaces tangled together, earrings that pull your earlobes down with their weight, bangles that used to be your grandma’s – has always represented freedom and autonomy.
Gold jewellery does not mean the same to my generation as it did to my mother’s, or to my grandmother’s generations. My generation has the privilege of wearing culturally-specific gold pieces as an expression of identity and heritage – our bangles, earrings and necklaces are not weighted down with the burdens of patriarchal social structures and economic dependency. They are, however, symbolic of the struggles of those that came before us, and a reminder that our load is a little bit lighter because of them.
Source by www.teenvogue.com