Exotica shop

Beads of Paradise is a small furnishings shop by Union Square in Manhattan. Earlier this year, it sold random old photos of a Rajasthani family for six hundred bucks as nothing more than visual texture for interior design. This struck me as comical. Now they’re selling Hindica for the same purpose:

The most egregious in this vein is actually ABC Home, a giant imports store down the street (Moroccan lanterns go for thousands) with expensive Krishna and Nataraja icons in its sidewalk displays.

Religion and art are closely linked, of course; churches in Italy feel to me like shared art galleries. But you generally won’t find secular furnishings stores in the U.S. selling pricy Christian icons because of the disrespect that implies. On the flip side, you can get Ganesh idols at many stores in Jackson Heights, but most of those selling anything larger than a keychain are religious artifacts shops. New Jersey has elevated the metallic dashboard Ganesh to an art form.

Those are all ancillary issues. The real question is this: why do high-end import stores in Manhattan prominently feature Hindu iconography when they have very few Hindu customers? One, because after the ’60s, it’s become a shorthand for ‘exotic.’ It’s a quick way to differentiate from mainstream furnishings stores. Two, because it’s colorful and pretty to look at. That’s actually a bit of a compliment.

Nowhere in those commercial and aesthetic calculations does the concern pop up that there actually are Hindus in Manhattan. That’s why they feel comfortable putting Ganesh in the window instead of something secular like an inlaid ivory table. It’s like ’65 never happened.

Related posts: Chinese Idol, Pounding leather, Scene in New York, Hinduism as kitsch, Warmth and Diesel: The selling of Indian kitsch

55 thoughts on “Exotica shop

  1. Sid writes:>>much of hinduism’s resilience stems from its lack of single canon or regulating/dogmatic authority (sorry, saffronists).

    The “sorry” is out of place. Saffronists agree with your statement about Hinduism’s resilience.

    M. Nam

  2. md, thanks for the props on the coltrane item. as for the whitefolks thing, um, i think we are agreeing here? i’m saying, hey, there’s a market for this stuff. and i’m glad that there are some desi entrepreneurs exploiting it, alongside the various non-desi and corporate peddlers of faux-spiritual artefacts and symbolism.

    now, if your point is that whitefolks (that’s a technical term, by the way — not to be confused with “all white people”) DON’T traffick in “lite” versions of exotic cultures, then we disagree on that. misappropriation of cultural capital is a hallmark trait of imperialism, has been since the dawn of time.

    but again, with respect to the “om” t-shirts and whatnot, it’s all good with me. let a hundred flowers bloom.

    and, you’re not an “old, cranky fart,” ok? you and i are about the same age. or maybe we’re both old farts then.

    extra dose of peace

  3. “and, you’re not an “old, cranky fart,” ok? you and i are about the same age. or maybe we’re both old farts then.”

    me too.

    come on, guys for lack of real causes, being a cultural (religuous icon) police is a total waste of time and effort. enjoy and let others enjoy too – every one is not going to be herman hesse et al.

    all we need is love……….

  4. What does ‘misappropriation of cultural capital is the hallmark of imperialism’ mean? I’m being serious. What does that mean? Look, ‘whitefolk’ aren’t the only ones who create an ‘other’ and ‘misappropriate’ things. There is this show in China that is incredibly popular and one of the main characters is this white, western woman who plays a vamp who tries to lure away the good Chinese boy. If you have a globalized culture, with widespread immigration, then you are going to have some light-weight curiousity going on; most people are not going to study each culture in depth. I love Edith Piaf – is it trafficking in French culture if I just like to dabble in Francophelia? I really know nothing about the country, and yet, the Piaf posters and all. It’s not imperialism, it’s how we start to learn about each other.

    I had no idea you were just this side of forty! Your blog comments look so much younger! I mean that as a compliment. All that hip-hop on your blog, too. I love it.

    (And anyway, my playing an old fart is a joke here on SM – it’s related to my being a stodgy registered Republican. I can’t remember who first called me an old fart. Was it on this blog or another one? I thought it was cute at the time, and thus, a blog persona was born. I think people find it incredibly irritating – Jai Singh called me on it too. I suppose, being a contrarian, I like to be irritating to people).



    (It’s a nice way to sign off, isn’t it? Also, since you are the music type, I am so sad that I won’t be able to Saint Etienne because they are not coming to Boston, only New York and Chicago. 🙁 )