I love my bustle as much as the next girl. I adore how I look in my proper Victorian corset. While I am a costume designer, I’m not going to tell people how to dress. But believe me, nikanek, when I tell you that there is a whole world out there for a steampunk to be inspired by. In the last few years there has been a wonderful realization that the world during the Age of Steam was bigger than the United States and Western Europe, exemplified by scholarly articles by author G.D. Falksen. However, examples of steampunks using these influences in their art are still fairly scant. This is why I started Multiculturalism for Steampunk (or the Steamer’s Trunk, as I affectionately call it): a blog that explores cultures of the world during the Age of Steam and presents them in a friendly, visual way for steampunks to use in their work. I wanted to create a place for multiculturalism in steampunk to be discussed in a positive manner that instructively showed people ways to involve these cultures while still being respectful.
Who am I? I’m Jeni Hellum, a.k.a. Miss Kagashi (the Anishnaabeg word for crow. Appropriate nom-de-plume, huh? All right, terrible joke…), an artist, costumer, fashion designer, history student, and proud woman of Norwegian and Potawatomie (Great Lakes Native American) descent. When I’m not researching Mongolian dress or trying to figure out how to make Chinese red bean soup, I own and manage the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron, a steampunk theatrical troupe out of Detroit, Michigan. I also design costume concept art for AIR, a steampunk MMORPG under development by Hatboy Studios, Inc. Rumors abound that I do not, in fact, sleep.
One of the things I have learned through my time as an artist is that the best way to break down walls between people is to create things together. This is my hope with the interactive content on Multiculturalism for Steampunk, which includes tutorials such as “Make your own cool fez” and recipes like “Masala chai mix,” including some helpful tips and recipes from other readers. While I provide the original recipe and instructions, it’s my hope that people will develop them and make them their own, which I feel is one of the values at the heart of steampunk.
So far I have done overviews on traditional dress in Mongolia and Ottoman Turkey during the Age of Steam, including suggestions about how you can involve these fascinating clothes in your steampunk. In “Maori Moko: Indentity, Pain, and Pride” I explained the history and tradition of Maori tattoos, and how steampunks can don a version of this glorious body art in a respectful way. Since November is Native American heritage month, I have planned an entire program of themed blog posts to introduce readers to the traditions and arts of various tribes.
In addition to research, cultural spotlights, recipes, and tutorials, I will also be taking road trips to various cultural celebrations in my area, such as the Eastern Michigan University Fall Powwow and Detroit Mexicantown’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. I hope that Multiculturalism for Steampunk becomes a place of creative exchange and that together we can become inspired to seek out new projects, get to know some new people, and…well…make some pretty cool stuff. So pack up your trunk, my steadfast companions: there’s a world of steampunk to discover.
Jeni Hellum writes for the blog Multiculturalism for Steampunk.
Photos by Anna Fischer