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Oriental CostumeJacqueline AyerPublished by Studio Vista, Cassell and Collier Macmillan Publishers Ltd.1974

Ayer originally intended to set a children’s book in India after travelling there as a design and production consultant for the Indian government. She decided instead to put together a book featuring sketches from life and historical artworks, that documented the clothing of different social and cultural groups. Ayer wrote, ‘I had seen prints done by the Victorian colonials of fierce ‘tribal leaders and village belles’. The English were very good record keepers, though not always reliable. Their basic message was often self-enhancing. Beautifully drawn though, it was inspiring to imagine what their view might have been if they were less involved in propaganda.’ Oriental* Costume (1974) aimed to show the diversity of types and uses of clothing in Cambodia, China, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet. Ayer hoped her book would be different from colonial representations, however the way that the book combines and categorises cultural groups carries a colonial influence.

The illustration seen here is featured on the book's front cover and titled 'Noble lady, Rajasthan, 18th Century'.

*The term ‘oriental’ has colonial and racist origins. It was established during a period when European powers took political control of other countries and defined non-European cultures as ‘inferior’ to their own. ‘Oriental’ was commonly used in English-speaking countries until the late 20th century to group together people, culture and places in Northern Africa, East Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as objects thought to have originated in these areas. The term has been widely rejected today as it exoticizes and ‘others’ these diverse cultures. Ayer used the term here to collectively refer to modes of dress from Cambodia, China, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Thailand and Tibet.