Interweaving influences and adaptations: sartorial endeavors of Okakura Kakuzō and M. K. Gandhi


Maumita Banerjee

International Journal of Asian Studies, 2023

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Abstract: Universalism, as a historical category, played an important ideological role in forging political solidarities beyond national boundaries in the modern period. The paper traces this idea in modern Asia through the sartorial styles of two intellectuals, Okakura Kakuzō and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Clothing as a medium of inquiry offers a unique scholarly perspective to articulate the role of universalism vis-à-vis nationalism in colonial India and modern Japan. Since dress politics existed in Eastern and Western societies, it allows us to study lived experiences through a transregional dialog. Both men recognized clothing as an effective political lexicon to fashion the self and creatively include others within the ideological space. Due to their early exposure to various cultures, the clothing style adopted by Okakura and Gandhi was founded on notions of plurality and belonging to multiple places and people. Their positionality enabled them to establish a dialog with both national and imperial politics and dress in a style that was self-made and world-aware. The paper uses their photographs and writings from a period that engendered the practice of universalism and challenged the narratives of nationalism.

About the author: Maumita Banerjee was a HYI Asia-Pacific Studies Training Program Visiting Fellow from 2019-20.