APPROPRIATE OR APPROPRIATED?
Was Eva Gauthier engaging in cultural appropriation by presenting Westernized versions of Javanese songs while “surrounded by special scenery and a series of wardrobe changes” suggestive of Javanese dress? That’s a question raised recently by musicologists such as Anita Slominksa, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Eva and her sister Juliette.
Even though Gauthier noted the havoc in Indonesia caused by the Dutch colonial authorities, the way she writes about the indigenous Javanese — “natives of an enchanting land” — and her acceptance (albeit only as an observer conscious of the Javanese social mores) of the practice of forcing twelve-year- old girls into arranged marriages, make for grim reading. However, in another article she observed that, because women of the court acted as go-betweens for the prime minister and the Sultan, the women “can shape the questions and answers with any construction they choose to put into them.”
Gauthier thought of her performances as a cultural bridge, the framework of which was a lecture in which she discussed “interesting bits of information concerning Javanese customs.” After all, she had gone from a bourgeois French- Canadian upbringing in Ottawa’s tony Sandy Hill neighbourhood to an environment that, as she described in a newspaper article, required checking under her bed for snakes and listening to the “screeching and chattering” of monkeys, tigers, and spotted leopards.
Dancer Nila Devi.