Monday, November 24, 2014

Pink-Washing Life’s Tough Questions

In Principles of Uncertainty, Maria Kalman provides a series of enigmatic responses to all of Life’s Tough Questions. These come in the form of paintings of rabbits wearing socks, handwritten tidbits about history’s greatest composers, and quotes from assassinated presidents stitched into white linen fabric. Throughout her twelve collections of ostensibly random art and musings, one takeaway emerges with complete clarity: Kalman is quite fond of the color pink.

Principles of Uncertainty is a picture book which pairs all written components with corresponding visual accompaniments. As such, Kalman need not waste space with descriptors apparent to the reader’s eye. Yet, the artist works the word “pink” into her musings whenever possible. She writes fondly of the waterfall of “pink Bougainvillea” and her sister’s beautiful “pink hat” (80-81). In Paris, where she seeks relief from Life’s Tough Questions, she delights in “The Pink Bed” (a piece of furniture to which she devotes two full-page spreads [146-7, 156-7]), “the beautiful girl with the pink ribbon” (160), and “the pinky pink pate” (161). The first painting in the book is an unaccounted for hand-broom set on a pale pink background and the last is a waterfall flowing down a mountain painted using five different shades of – wait for it – pink.

Pink is a pleasant color to the eyes and a delightful word on the tongue. It covers the walls in the nurseries of baby girls and can be used playfully in alliteration, as Kalman proves when describing Kitty Carlisle’s apartment as a “pearly pink palace” (180). In general, however, the color is associated with levity and frivolity. In nature, it appears only in agreeable situations, such as during a sunrise, on the petals of a lovely flower, or in the feathers of flamingo. In Principles of Uncertainty, Kalman quite literally presents her world through rose-colored glasses, as if to suggest that beauty and humor are perhaps the only certain truths this life has to offer.

At Tunbridge, students are not allowed to wear the color pink in any significant capacity. This is a rule that caught me off guard when I first heard it. The children run around in sneakers, athletic pants, and t-shirts, and I was surprised to learn that in doing so, they are upholding a strict dress code. Their clothing must be in the school colors (black and orange) or else a neutral color like grey or white. All other colors, such as pink, are deemed not-so-meaningful distractions. I’m not sure how I feel about this. At an educational institution operating upon the central belief that physical activity and frequent socialization are necessary elements in building students with strong senses of self, outlawing the wearing of bright colors seems a little counterintuitive. The freedom to express oneself through clothing can play an important role in the development of individuality. As long as the clothing continues to be safe for physical activity, I hardly see a problem with a little bit of pink. I tend to think Maira Kalman would agree. 

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