the meaning of style features a group of anti-fascist Malay skinheads who appear to transcend reality and representation, circulating between the imaginative and literal spaces of cinema. Filmed in Penang, Malaysia, the skinheads are part of a subculture that formed in the 1990s. They have all the visual cues: shaved heads, sporting work shirts, bomber jackets, suspenders, jeans, leather boots, tailor-made pants and sweaters. But they lack the aggression that has come to define skinheads. In a series of quickly changing scenes set in an Indian Tamil cinema, a Chinese Buddhist temple, and a colonial-era mansion, for example, the youth serenely flip through vintage English magazines, listening to walkmans, and play cards. Interspersed among these contemplative moments, a confrontation transpires in the streets, a kind of enacted roughhousing. It’s a performance of the cinematic skinhead shaped by the media they absorb. Other moments include a profusion of butterflies alighting on the young men's shoulders and cheeks, and tender exchanges of clothing. A soothing, dreamlike soundtrack by Welsh musician Gruff Rhys and the band Y Niwl accompanies the images, moving the film majestically toward something that is neither fantasy music video nor an extended Ben Sherman commercial but more socially and culturally compelling, connected to the universal desire to belong while staking out zones and modes of independence.
Drawing on his belief in the power of popular culture to transcend social class, locality, and language, Collins explores ways in which subcultures and styles circulate and translate from different historical, ethnic, and social contexts. In Britain, the skinhead originated in the 1960s as a working-class subculture out of respect and admiration between Anglo and Caribbean youth. By the mid-1970s, its anti-establishment credo that that was largely articulated through progressive racial politics evolved into a nationalist neo-Nazi aesthetic. Transmitted widely by news media and Hollywood, racism eventually became for many the defining hallmark of the counter-culture style. The Malay youth co-opt the style of the former British colonial’s subculture and, bridging time and space, restore it to its original meaning united by community, fashion, and music within their South-Asian context.
Curated by James Voorhies, the John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director.