Goggles and gears, corsets adorned with brass and lace brocade, Victorian aesthetics meshed with clockwork, artisans selling creative curios, side show fancies and handmade wares — all came together seamlessly for an imagined moment in time that transformed the historic Gladstone Hotel in Toronto for an annual steampunk street festival.
With my feathered top hat pinned firmly to my hijab and my robotic “ocular enhancement” painted on my face, I joined hundreds of other diverse hobbyists who have taken this sub-genre of science fiction beyond imagination and into the reality of fashion, music, performance art, design, philosophy and lifestyle.
I’m fairly new to the steampunk scene in Toronto — and even though I’ve appreciated the culture for years (decades? centuries?) and take any opportunity I can get to dress up in my collection of steampunk gear — this was the first time I’ve actively attended a public event instead of just shyly looking from afar at convention centres.
Recently I’ve decided to become more involved in the steampunk community and was encouraged by a good friend and talented graphic designer who helped create a part of my character. I don’t have the artisan skill to work with metal and leather — but as you know, I’m crafty and enjoy expressing my artistic side with more fluid mediums *cough* like eyeliner.
The final product. Ms. K, Inquisitor of the social sciences and robotics. I’m on the hunt for a man named Rex Marxley.
The girls were decked out in their goggles and held on tight as they took in the fantastical and carefully choreographed event pulled together by Adam Smith, director of Canadian Steam Productions. Soon the dulcet tones of Sir Alfred E Tennyson, Scholar and Gentlemanly DJ, enthusiastically welcomed the crowd, delighted our oratory senses and welcomed an array of steam-inspired entertainment.
While it’s difficult to define exactly what it means for something to be “steampunk,” it’s generally understood to be rooted in an alternative history (or historical future) where steam-power rules and aesthetics are largely influenced by the Victorian period to the mid-20th century. In terms of attitude, steampunk rests on a world of possibility, futurism, but also romantic idealism of the past — and criticisms of the subculture often highlight negative elements that include Empire-worship, the colonial spirit (colonizing other worlds, at least), and overlooking the child labour, rampant disease, institutionalized slavery and racism of the Victorian period.
Since many modern, negative stereotypes about Muslims — as the exotic, savage, sexualized, Orientalized “other” — originate from the Victorian era, what would Muslim Steampunk actually look like? Would it draw specifically from prejudiced Victorian sensibilities, or focus on the strengths and glory of Islam’s Golden Age?