Colour Politics | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 24, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 24, 2018

Colour Politics

We may live and breathe words, if American author, Cassandra Clare is to be believed, but changing shades of time are in no way shy of conveying their own mosaic of stories. In all their tints and shades, shifting spectrums of colour invoke nostalgia, relate to literature, represent cultures and even instigate whole movements for change.

While the world seems to be obsessed over what colour dominates international fashion weeks and what colour has been reserved for the latest liberalistic movement, the Bangladeshi canvas debates over colours in its own muted strokes. But, contrasts don't just exist in ways of expression when it comes to colour politics. A long and exhausting walk down history will tell you how polarising modern perceptions of colours are when compared to their prehistoric counterparts.

Case in point is probably the controversial and gender-specific pink. While most of you may see pink as a rather feminine colour, 19th century trends say otherwise. A couple of hundred years ago, pink was quite the masculine shade worn by young men in the form of ribbons on their wrists.

But somewhere along the lines, we saw a spike in popularity of all things pink for women and everything blue for men that only somewhat faded in the face of the new millennia. Breaking conventional barriers and no longer seen as 'girly,' pink is now a colour for freedom. It has been redefined and reborn and is now bolder than ever.

In the race of being rediscovered and revived, tints of yellow are not too far behind either. Originally seen as the colour of 'gold' in archaic times and deemed a symbol of 'indestructibility,' it was perhaps the iconic 'Sunflower' series by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh that shone a rather different light on the hue through brilliantly strategic strokes on his canvas.

Comparing the radiant sun's rays to bright, sulphur yellow, Van Gogh was a true admirer of the colour. The 'Sunflower' paintings represented a rare time of excited optimism for him and attempted to express emotion. For Van Gogh, who chose various shades of yellow to create the paintings, the 'Sunflower' series was an emblem of happiness and it only makes sense how tones of yellow have now evolved to mean positivity and sheer joy.

In the scene of interpreting colour, great literary works have their own ways. Portrayed to symbolize moods, build premise and draw vivid comparisons, authors and litterateurs have many a times used colours when putting pen to paper. The classic British novel Lord of the Flies depicts 'green' to mean innocence and maturity in a lush island full of nature. On the other hand, direct comparisons were drawn between 'black' and 'death' in American author Edgar Allan Poe's poem, The Raven. Moreover, the protagonist Jane fainting in a 'red' room in the classic novel Jane Eyre out of sheer fear of a ghost is a shout-out to the strong emotions associated with the colour.

Whilst colours have evolved to adopt unexpected meanings and symbolisms, they have also been undeniably linked to human emotions. Personal connections to certain colours, social or even cultural associations- all play their parts to invoke distinct reactions in us when it comes to colours. And we have colour-coordinating idioms in the vast English language to back our claim here!

'Seeing red' resonates anger. And rightfully so. A stimulating colour, red has the power to make your heart race and is generally linked to alarm and caution. It evokes powerful emotions like passion, fear and anger. A milder hue of yellow, however, radiates sunshine-like optimism. And strangely enough, on a rough, gloomy day when nothing seems to go your way, the sunniness from a vibrant, yellow outfit is sure to work its contagious charm on your attitude too!

To add to that, green has been known to rid your nerves of anxiety and relieve stress while a 'calming case of blues' can be both inspirational and provoke sadness, while also known to lower blood pressure. After all, there's something inexplicably and intensely calm about a still image of crystal blue, crashing waves.

And while we are still on the subject, how can we leave out the multifaceted and glorious black?

Credited to evoke a regal and elegant look, the simplest tailored outfit, be it  traditional or western, can instantly make you feel chic. Black is a true standout. Although associated with mourning, loss or even all things evil, 'black' inclines more on the classy end of the colour spectrum. A good explanation as to why is probably because of the impression of polished, black cars and formal black-tie events.

However, modern takes on politics of specific colours and shades have their own labyrinth of stories to tell. Taking it one step at a time, what could be better than 'green' to kick-start the traipse along the rainbow?

ENVIOUS GREEN

The synonym for environment, 'green' is now the colour of growth and freshness. And on the national flag of Bangladesh, the green background, in the middle of which sits a red disc, represents the rich lushness of the country.

More than nature, green is the colour of peace. Green has earned a coveted role of inspiring environmentalist agendas for many European political parties. It even resulted in many non-profits to be formed. And one such non-governmental organization dedicated to make the world a better place to live in is Greenpeace.

A global organisation exposing environmental problems, Greenpeace campaigns on worldwide issues such as climate change, deforestation and even protecting the wildlife in the Arctic. Putting the environment first, such non-profits aim for a peaceful future and it is all because of the harmonious green.

 

SUNSHINE YELLOW

The warm colour of a golden autumn, yellow used to be a rare sight in fashion, but 2018's head-turning trends will tell you otherwise. The vibrant, cheery burst of yellow hues was the dominant colour on the runways of the New York Fashion Week, 2018 and western trends are slowly tiding over Bangladesh as well. Anything from a sunflower-yellow flounce gown and airy, chiffon dresses to canary-coloured outfits toned down with caramel-shaded add-ons are your ideal go-to options when preparing for the harsh heat to follow this summer.

When talking about yellow and attires that are anything but mellow, how does one leave out the Bangladeshi festival of new beginnings? Pahela Falgun, celebrated in great gaiety, marks the beginning of spring after a gloomy winter. It's the season of birds chirping in the air, flowers blooming anew and the earth  reviving itself after a cold hiatus. And at the heart of it all? A glory of colours with yellow leading the show. Saris in all shades of yellow with tiaras and bangles made of fresh flowers to match, women adorn themselves in eye-catching attires and men opt for similar, colour-coding and traditional panjabis. All for Falgun. And all in yellow.

BURNING RED

Demanding all the attention for itself, red is an arresting colour. Extraordinary in its appeal, red is the double underline, the stop sign, the passion and the rage. Crimson has long been known to be the colour of royalty, preferred by emperors and empresses of the Mughal era. It invokes power and is the colour that needs no emphasising.

However, if you are in the possession of a long-stemmed rose with even a blush of red, you will have owned a universal symbol of courtly love. Also, the colour for Valentine's Day and romance, red, in all its shades, is almost a staple on February 14. While glacial shifts can be observed with more and more people opting for pinks and even blacks on the day, glamourous red remains a safe bet for a true standout.

 

MILLENNIAL PINK/PURPLE

A new shade of pink is on the horizon, with the trend only gravitating upwards. Perhaps, the best way to describe 'millennial pink' is to call it a toned-down Barbie pink bordering to a peach-salmon hue. With millennial pink, we no longer carry the baggage of gender-specific associations of Barbies and bubble gums; in fact, it's more androgynous.

A flattering colour that complements Instragram filters and discovered in an era shifting towards equality among people of all genders, millennial pink is for everyone. It is a soft-tone tint of pink without the sugary prettiness infamously and previously linked with the colour. 

Strong statements of feminism can be made with the new-age pink with Hollywood celebrities proud to be donning the colour of the millennia. The colour, in all its glory and stride, signals woman empowerment and more importantly, gender fluidity.

The timeless millennial pink is genderless and implies progressive politics around LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights. It represents freedom regardless of who you are, and serves no judgement whatsoever. It celebrates the true essence of equality, promotes liberalism and is redefined as robust and bold.

And on the darker side of the pink spectrum, how does one miss purple? Purple, known to invoke a mystical aura, is most popularly assigned to raise awareness on cancer. Standing for the traumatic fight against the disease and the survivors victorious in their battle, the Purple Ribbon has gained quite the following.

In political symbolism, however, it has been known to be the favourite of Queen Elizabeth and even Hillary Clinton (cue the elegant trouser suit in purple she donned to nobly concede defeat to Donald Trump). And now purple, in all its nuanced glory, is predicted to be the colour of Summer 2018, according to western fashion critics, and provokes drama and thoughtfulness.

BACK TO BLACK

In a bid to dissect colours, black is impossible to ignore. The darkest shade of the spectrum that has not a single stream of light, black can evoke sheer power.

Although tied to 'mystery,' the colour black has been worn by influential celebrities to a red carpet event in January to unveil the shroud of silence and ignorance when it comes to speaking up about being physically harassed in Hollywood. To offer solidarity with the wave of men and women putting forth their personal and traumatic stories, the red carpet of the event was stormed in black. The focus of the dress code had almost nothing to do with fashion, and basically everything to do with discrimination and the abuse of power. The hash tag of "whywewearblack" was even a trending topic on Twitter, dedicated to spreading further awareness.

In Bangladesh, however, black is the colour of mourning. Associated with Ekushey February and worn on February 21, attires in grave black and contrasting whites are donned in solidarity with the martyrs of the Language Movement of '52. The streets of Dhaka are coloured black and white attires in chic prints, blocks and even designs with hints of zealous reds. The intention is to truly speak to the passion of the fight for Bangla as the national language synchronised with the festival.

When it comes to interpretation of colours and the politics they invoke, no one shade is out of the race. But why have everyday colours conjured up such importance in the first place?

Colours differentiate. It's hard to explain the jovial nature of filling out a dull, black-and-white comic strip with the vibrancy and liberty of colours. Whether here or abroad, without colours, things lose something; perhaps a part of their meaning or maybe the whole narration of the story they are trying to tell.

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