All posts by Ishita Petkar

From punk to Pinterest

Once upon a time, DIY was badass.

Today, the term brings to mind hand-crafted artifacts, vintage goods, and pastel décor. In the ’70s, by contrast, DIY was a vehicle of radicalism and an integral part of punk subculture. Going hand-in-hand with independent music, studded leather jackets, and colourful mohawks, DIY was an expression of autonomy — a representation of independence from dominant mainstream culture.


DIY in punk subculture

“[I]n rock music by the ’50s and ’60s, there was a very high bar for performativity,” explains Dylan Clark, a professor of anthropology at U of T. “To be onstage, you had to be extremely well-trained, and there was a gravitation towards the John Lennons of the world,” he says. 

This high standard of music eventually reached a point where music itself was unreachable for the average person.

“Punk was a response to many things, but part of it was people saying, ‘Screw that, let’s go out and make music ourselves,’” says Clark. It didn’t matter if you were good, had enough money, or even had the right instruments — punk was a backlash against the traditional glam of celebrity in favour of an accessible form of fun.

During this period, subcultures were being bought out by mainstream culture.

“[Punk] was being co-opted by commercials, by advertising, by record companies, by radio stations, by people who were trying to make a buck by taking these subcultures and turning it very mainstream,” remarks Clark. “As a kid, to be hip, you would go out and buy your outfit and buy your music and buy the whole package, and the whole experience would be commodified.”

Punk reacted against this culture by eschewing consumerism entirely. In an effort to resist commodification, people decided to “do it themselves” in many different ways.

It began with the music. A band would write and record their own songs, book their own tours, and distribute their records themselves. This saved money and meant that the money they spent stayed within the independent economy of the subculture.

“The tension between innovation and co-optation has been around for decades,” explains Clark.

As fashions and lifestyles that originally began as distinctive and deviant become mainstream, youth naturally seek new ways to be different.


Thrifty hipsters

Today, the punk label that was once associated with DIY has been replaced by a new affiliation with hipsters. Hipsters, however, lack the same elite community that punks engaged in, which was far more clearly defined and maintained independent forms of communication and social interaction.

In Clark’s opinion, hipsterism doesn’t exist. “I would say a subculture has to have a little bit more of a community to exist. You actually have people who share music, clubs, sexual orientation, drugs, ideas…”

Hipsterism is vague and not restricted to a secluded community — and neither is the new wave of DIY.

DIY has become a new mainstream culture that signifies a penny-pinching craftiness and domestic design sensibility. DIY is re-integrating into this niche market through the preference of local over corporate and of homemade over store-bought.

With inspiration from retail stores, Pinterest, and vintage fashion and décor, people are inspired to recycle trash into new treasures. Businesses are popping up around Toronto to cater to the market of people that want to make things themselves and people who want to buy things that others made locally.

Bike Pirates is a bike co-op that rescues potentially garbage bike parts and teaches cyclists how to fix their bike themselves. Other businesses offer lessons in DIY, like The Make Den, which offers sewing lessons, and The Knit Café, which teaches you the ways of the needle.

People pay for lessons in how to engage in DIY at these venues, as well as purchasing locally made goods at these stores and others. The modern DIY movement is becoming more of a “let others do it themselves for you” or “buy it yourself” movement that is guided by certain aesthetic principles — vintage references, cleverness, cuteness, and so on. Although they didn’t necessarily take part in creating it, DIY consumers take ownership of their purchased homemade goods and want their product to be visibly divorced from corporate processes and to appear somewhat kitschy.

This counterintuitive DIY market, where others are engaging in DIY and selling their goods, is embodied by websites like Etsy, where consumers can purchase homemade wares from across the globe — from pineapple cozies to cane-toad-shaped leather coin purses.

DIY, in all its incarnations, represents the need for something more authentic than what consumerist culture can provide.

“That’s the cool hunt, the constant pursuit of shoe and fashion companies to hunt down the latest young urban styles that are being innovated. And the moment they do that is the moment that the actual cool people start running,” says Clark.

DIY is reintegrating into the mainstream by subverting the cool hunt, as crafty folks can recreate things they see in storefronts at lower costs at home or buy them homemade online.

Window-shopping, in this DIY ethic, takes on a whole new meaning. You don’t have to have the funds — you just have to have the idea. Rather than think, “I want that,” the DIY consumer contends, “I can make that.” Or, at least, someone else can.


DIY Clock


1.  Take a sheet of newspaper and roll it into a tube. Use a pen or pencil as a guide. You will need to make 24 of these tubes.


2. Secure  the end of the tubes with tape.

3. Bend about one third of the tube towards the other end. Repeat with the rest of the tubes.


4.  Pierce the flat end of one of the tubes with your sewing needle and thread.


5. Run the thread through the initial hole again, this will reinforce the thread and prevent it from falling through. Afterwards, you can begin to sew the rest of your tubes together.

6. Take a CD and place it in the middle of the starburst. The middle hole of the CD should line up with the starburst’s hole. This part is the back of the clock.


7. Take your battery-operated clock mechanism. Place the rod that supports the hands into the starburst and clear CD holes.


8. Place your prepunched circle on the clock mechanism, this will prevent your clock (or life jk) from falling apart.

9. Tightly screw on the nut.



More newspaper DIY


How to: Newsprint Candles


Inspiration: Flags

Wishing Wells of the World

Without a star to witness it, you can always pause to make a wish. There’s something about a fountain, though, that conjures up a sense that making a wish before it will somehow make that wish come true.This strange faith is manifested and celebrated in unique ways throughout the world. The Varsity explored some of the most famous places people visit to make a wish.


1. Shoe Tree | Middlegate, Nevada


Although vandals chopped down this emblem of love in 2010, this shoe tree was once the largest in the States, and inspired a cult-like following. People came from all over the country to throw their shoes into the tree as a sign of solidarity in times of hardship.


2. Snow White’s Wishing Well | Anaheim, California


True to Snow White’s belief in her own wishing well, this spot in California’s Disneyland grants wishes to children all the time. Surrounded by marble statues of Snow White and her seven dwarves, the money thrown into the wishing well is donated to a variety of children’s charities.


3. Covadonga Sanctuary | Cangas de Onís, Spain

In Asturias, Spain, there’s a little cave; and in that cave, there’s a little chapel to the Virgin Mary; and underneath that chapel, there’s a beautiful wishing pool. This sacred site is also the burial place for the founder of Asturias, Pelagius, and his family.


4. Pont de l’Archevêché | Paris, France

The more famous of Paris’ two bridges featuring love locks, Pont de l’Archevêché is filled with padlocks with names written on them, locked with keys that now lie at the bottom of the river Seine — signifying the undying nature of love. This bridge is meant for lovers — particularly the unmarried ones.


5. The Fountains of Peterhof | St. Petersburg, Russia


There’s no place more grand to make a wish than among the 64 different fountains, complete with brass statues and decorations, that make up the complex of fountains outside the Grand Palace. The Grand Cascade fountain is particularly imposing, and is the first sight visitors see as they arrive by sea to Peterhof.


6. Trevi Fountain | Rome, Italy


Legend has it that if you make a stop at this cultural icon and throw a coin over your shoulder with your right hand, you’ll be sure to return to Rome. This world-famous fountain gathers over 3,000 euros in revenue per day, most of which is donated to a local supermarket for the needy.


7. Hagia Sophia Wishing Column | Istanbul, Turkey


In Roman times, rumour had it that Emperor Justinian’s headache was cured by leaning his head on this column. People from all over would touch the hole in the column to their afflicted body parts to heal them. Today, visitors to the Hagia Sophia delight in making wishes by rotating their thumb clockwise around the hole.


8. Western Wall | Jerusalem, Israel

Continuing a tradition more than 300 years old, visitors to Jerusalem slip notes inscribed with their prayers in the crevices of the ancient wall, once the site of the Jewish Second Temple.


9. Qutub Minar Iron Pillar | New Delhi, India


Built to honour the Hindu god Vishnu and the passing of King Chandragupta II, traditional lore states that if you can hug this iron pillar with your back against it, your wish will come true.


10. Qianqiu Pavilion | Beijing, China


Located within the Forbidden City itself, the Qianqiu Pavilion boasts a beautifully structured, ancient wishing well, which guarantees love and prosperity to the wish-maker. With such unique and mysterious surroundings, this well draws visitors in with its legacy of grandeur and mysticism.


11. Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees | Hong Kong


Beside the Tin Hau Temple in Hong Kong grow two large banyan trees. It’s an age-old tradition to write your wish on a piece of joss paper, tie it to an orange, and throw it to see if it will hang on one of the branches, signifying that your wish will come true. Today, wish-makers tie their wishes to wooden racks and imitation trees beside the banyans in order to preserve them.


12. Erawan Shrine | Bangkok, Thailand


When the construction of the Erawan luxury hotel was plagued by catastrophes in the mid-1950s, the superstitious workers refused to continue working unless the spirits of the land were appeased. The shrine was the hotel’s answer. It pays homage to the Hindu god Brahma, and invites thousands of visitors of all faiths to make ceremonial wishes at the shrine, with everything from flower garlands and fruits to teakwood elephants.


13. Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove | Osogbo, Nigeria

The Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is one of the last remaining sacred forests in Nigeria. Established over 400 years ago, it is a place of worship for the Osuba, Yoruba’s fertility goddess.


14. Fountain of Love | Montevideo, Uruguay

The plaque beside this fountain reads: “The legend of this young fountain tells us that if a lock with the initials of two people in love is placed in it, they will return together to the fountain and their love will be forever locked.”

Native tradition, new theatre

Comfortably perched in her desk chair, Dr. Jill Carter laughs as she huddles around the warmth of the large Second Cup coffee that she holds in her hands. “Sorry about that!” she says smiling, having just been bombarded with a myriad of questions from eager students waiting outside her office.

Carter, who identifies herself as Anishinaabe-Ashkenazi, is a faculty member in the Aboriginal Studies department at U of T. She also describes herself as an actor, a writer, a playwright, a student, and a mentor. While lecturing is her full-time job, she makes sure to include time for her greatest passion, the theatre, and for the stories that can be created on stage.

As an integral part of Native Earth Performing Arts’ newest production, Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, Carter knows all about stories. The play incorporates creation stories of different groups of indigenous peoples from all over the Americas — specifically the Haudenosaunee (Great Lakes region), Rappahannock (Virginia), and Guna (Panama) peoples — in an attempt to reclaim indigenous cultures through art. Focusing on the elemental females portrayed in these stories, the play is centred on Chocolate Woman, a Guna feminine spirit associated with the cacao plant.

Carter, who recently received her Ph.D. from the Drama Centre at U of T, is the remount director of Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, and has been involved with the play since the beginning of its production. Nestled in the warmth of her office on a blisteringly cold day, she spoke to The Varsity about Native Earth Performing Arts, and the role of theatre in the reclaiming of indigenous cultures.


How did you become involved with Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest professional native theatre company? 


 I suppose being a young native woman, I was drawn to them… My first experience with Native Earth was seeing Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters, and I remember very clearly how it galvanized me. I came up in a time when a lot of Native artists came up — you know, people who wanted to be theatre professionals [but were] not seeing their role models and… Not seeing ourselves at all on stage. And if we did see ourselves on stage… or saw what purported to be us on stage, we often saw some very ugly pictures, so it wasn’t something to be proud of. Seeing The Rez Sisters changed everything, and it changed everything for a lot of native artists, but also for mainstream [theatres]… It really put Native Earth on the map.


So you think Native Earth Performing Arts has been instrumental in jump-starting Native theatre?


Oh I would say so… Although it had its financial struggles, it has been the cornerstone, I think, of native theatre in Canada. It’s been the place where artists got a voice, and where artists could become developed. They have a Young Voices program, and in that program they invite young people who are interested in playwriting… to work with professional dramaturgists… and they do a lot. I mean, they help young native artists through every stage in their careers. It is really ground zero, so to speak, still today.



One of the mandates of Native Earth is to encourage the use of theatre as a form of communication and dialogue. How or why do you see this as being especially important in communicating experiences unique to native peoples in contemporary society?


Oh, that’s such a layered question! Twenty years ago, Canadians did not know who [natives] were. Canadians had an image of us, [but] they knew nothing of us… So having our artists come out and speak to Canada in our voice, about our concerns and through our lens was and is still crucially important today… To be the one who tells your story, that’s important. It’s interesting though because the issue has changed. Yvette Nolan [former artistic director of Native Earth] said, and I think quite rightly so, [that] at one point, the struggle — or the question — was, ‘Who gets to speak?’ Now the question is, ‘Who is listening?’  Is anybody listening? It gets awfully exhausting, educating the main populace… And many [artists] are pushing back against that and their plays are not necessarily for mainstream Canadians. Mainstream Canadians are welcome to come, to receive, to be affected, to learn, but their plays are for their own people.

I often think of theatre as urban ceremony, in the sense that it unites a scattered body politic. The best of it creates communitas; it creates that sense that we in the audience are connected to each other… The best of it offers real healing, and permanent transformations, in that we can come away knowing something we didn’t know before… I mean, I’m not saying, ‘Go see a play’ and you’re fine! But, go see this play and something begins to work within you, that medicine begins to work within you. I think it can also be a gateway to our culture. So many of us have been separated from our communities, our languages, and a venue like this can be a gateway in. It can get us understanding a little more about ourselves and [make us] curious, eager to push further and go further.


There is a lot of silence surrounding the Native community in Canada, especially for the average citizen who doesn’t go out of his or her way to become informed. Do you see Native Earth playing a role in filling that silence?


I think it is, but it’s one piece of the puzzle. We don’t necessarily live in a theatre-going nation… So there are those that love the live experience and who come to see the theatre. But there are many who don’t, and we know that, and that’s certainly been an issue with Native Earth, an issue that is shared by theatres across Canada. The one thing you hear from [Canadian theatres] is the struggle, dare I be crude, to get bums in seats, and to bring people out… So there is always that struggle and certainly Native Earth has not been immune to that. But when we think of how many people in Toronto will be touched and educated by a piece, [it’s] not many. So Native Earth is part of something that must be larger. However, the thing about Native Earth is that in its support of plays and artists… it allows that work [to maintain] life after the production… These plays are published texts, they have a life in remounts and on tour, other theatres take it up, and I think this can all be traced back to the ministrations of companies like Native Earth.


Can you tell us a little bit about the idea behind Chocolate Woman Dreams the Milky Way, and how it goes about reclaiming Indigenous cultures through art?


I’ve been involved with Chocolate Woman since its inception in 2007… It began before that however as a drive, or a need that Monique Mojica [the play’s author] had. Monique was going through a very serious… Time in her life. [She] required healing, required something to get up and go on, and began to look back at Creation stories, and the elemental females of Creation. And I say Creation stories and elemental females, because Monique is Guna and Rappahannock… She is also by marriage and adoption Haudenosaunee. Since she has all of this cultural material to draw on, the show is an interweave.

Chocolate Woman is a Guna figure, an elemental female, I hesitate to use the word goddess because it’s not the same thing, but she is this feminine spirit that is associated with the cacao. Cacao for Guna people is a medicine… But it can also work at you from the outside in, can shield you from your enemies. So this cacao is really important. [Mojica met] with a Guna consultant and traditional teacher, who taught her these songs and stories. Rather than adopting Western theatrical form, she went back to tradition and ceremony to figure out how to… tell an ancient story to a contemporary audience, with contemporary expectations, in a contemporary venue, but to be able to affect the audience as an original rendering of the story would have affected traditional people.