Can we have a moment to talk about the MI brand identity?


#1

Hi! Just wanted to talk about some stuff, I don’t want it to come off as a rant but I apologise in advance if it does. I’m also not sure if this is something that has been brought up before, but here I go.

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the new direction MI modules are taking. I’ve stayed away from MI modules in the past because I didn’t want to deal with menus, lots of buttons, etc [well, I do have a uBurst, but I know I’m not using it to it’s full potential thanks to these…]. The new modules, specially Plaits, looks fantastic, and may be exactly what I need in my rack at the moment.

But here’s the thing…

I have a problem with the MI logo. And I don’t want that logo on any panel in my rack.

I’m not sure how many people are aware of it or even if it’s meant to be so - but the logo is a appropriated version of a Hindu goddess. I’m from India - technically a Hindu I suppose, but I don’t follow any religion and I have an atheist upbringing. But living in India for most of my life (I’ve been in Finland the last couple of years), I know what religious symbology signifies, how much bigotry it can give rise to, and how polarising it can be. And I wouldn’t like it on something as personal on my rack, giving the wrong idea to people. Specially in the climate of the right wing divisive politics that’s going on in my country, I would not be comfortable having this logo on my rack. I’ve stayed away from religion all my life and this association would just give an unintentional signal in the wrong climate.

At the very best, the MI logo is an honest mistake, at the very worst, a terrible cultural appropriation with a lot of religious undertones. Eurorack is not a tiny community anymore and MI is one of the biggest players in the field - and something like this sends the wrong message.

On a related note, the MI “toys” that used to be given out earlier (I think those have changed now) were religious figurines as well. Might seem like fun for the unaware, but again, for the reasons stated above, might not be giving off the best signals.

Ok, rant (?) over. Thanks for reading.

Now that Plaits is open sourced, I see some 3rd party panels floating around, I’d have to get one of those in case I do pick up a Plaits. Thanks for the work on the colour blind mode, btw, that’s something I highly appreciate being slightly colourblind myself.


#2

I think its in full awareness. I like the figurines and the general aesthetic despite being quite the agnostic myself.
I think its a bit rich to speak of cultural appropriation but that is a matter of personal opinion.


#3

Yes of course, it’s a personal opinion. But I still wanted to talk about it.

I mean, eurorack is still a dominantly Western phenomenon. But if you’re from a country and background with a complicated history with Christianity and being agnostic/atheist, would you like to be associated with brands using an image of Jesus?

Religious imagery can and does have problems in various regions and while I might be a tiny minority speaking out here, I still believe it’s worth talking about.


#4

While i personally understand your point, i do like plays on religious aesthetic (for example justice’s roman catholic album covers).
It might be different though living in a pretty secular country versus living in a country where religious bigotry is more of a problem?
Anyway i respect your feelings towards this topic :slight_smile:


#5

First of all thank you for sharing your point of view.
I’ll leave a more official reply to @pichenettes, but I can say for sure that the choices that were made at the beginning regarding the logo and the visual identity are less of a cultural appropriation than you might have the feeling it is.
But apart from that, let me give you more my personal view on the more general, underlying matter.
I have never been in India, nor do I know all that much about Hindu religion. I’ve grown up in a very Catholic region in Italy (you know… we’re geographically close to the Pope here) so I know quite a bit about bigotry, and definitely do not approve of it. Independently of my appreciation or not of the Catholic religion, its power structures, the content of their preaching etc. there is an undeniable beauty and historic/cultural value in most religious imagery. Not only the fine-art one (western art is deeply rooted in religious art) but also – and for my personal interest often especially – in the more popular/folkloric one.
It should be said that the Roman Catholic church has a history filled with great cruelties, and yet, much of the art that was made to celebrate its “greatness” is still wonderful.
I guess this is just another variation on the great question: can we appreciate art, but despise its makers? Should a work of art stand on its own?
Can we appreciate the Futurist movement even if they openly supported the fascist regime? Can we still watch the Bill Cosby Show or buy a Synthrotek module after its owner’s rape jokes?

So I guess I want to bounce this back to you with a question: how strong is the link between religious Hindu art and the religion itself (and it’s bigotry aspect) for you, and how much value do you see in traditional Hindu religious art once you strip it of its religious aspects from it?


#6

there is no such thing as ‘cultural appropriation’, only cultural exchange.

the very concept of cultural appropriation serves to essentialize and fetishize mechanisms of exclusion. rather than policing those boundaries, we should strive to deconstruct and transcend them.


#7

I tend to agree with this point of view. I grew up in stuttgart, germany. about 40% of its population come from non-german backgrounds. I was taught to respect and embrace different cultures beyond getting a kebap at the corner so the concept of cultural appropriation seems very segregatory to me.


#8

Here’s a bit of discussion from some years ago. Might be some answers and opinions you’ll find interesting:
On another note, if you want a plaits, but really don’t want the logo on, then buy a braids, and get a alternative panel on the side. Don’t throw money after the clone builders.


#9

Ok, I agree maybe using the term cultural appropriation is maybe too much. But I also do hope that you get the sentiment.

@Papernoise, I understand your points, and of course, art vs their maker is a long debate that can go on forever. But art appreciation and associating yourself with it is a completely different matter. To answer your question, there’s usually a function between Hindu art (depicting a scene) vs depicting a religious figure (which is more for worshipping purposes). While I can appreciate the former, I would never associate myself with the latter.

But apart from this bothering me personally, I’d like to look at this more from a broader point of view. I’m free to reject religion and air my views about it coming from the background that I do. However, not everyone in India is that lucky, specially in the political climate that the country is dealing with now. A logo like this might not have any bad intentions at heart, but it might do more harm than good in the wrong place. While I do embrace different cultures, putting a religious figure in my vicinity is the last think I’d do because it could translate as an association with that school of thought.

@Jensu, Not gonna throw money on clone builders, but a panel I can replace on a factory Plaits.


#10

Yes, i meant to write Plaits in the other post aswell :slight_smile:


#11

well i have to admit that there has been a time when, with view of the current political climate im india, i‘ve had some reservations about m.i.‘s use of hindu imagery myself. but then i thought that in the context of these musical modules, this imagery is just plain beautiful and very obviously innocent of any nationalism or chauvinism that some of it might be associated with in other contexts - just as the image of saraswati could be argued to stand for the very opposite of any such ugly sentiments - she is the goddess of wisdom and learning, after all. it just seemed too simple and peaceful in this context to be offensive. was i being naive?

[edit:] ah, pichenettes has made some excellent points about this in that earlier thead linked to above.


#12

Im not religious and I have zero problem with the panel graphics.
If you don’t like it, put some tape over it. Job done :+1:


#13

This is the most interesting thread I’ve seen here in a while. My first reaction was the typical “this seems like such a minor thing to make into an issue.” However, as I read more, I realized that the OP raises some interesting points. I don’t know much about Hindu religion or it’s history, culture or deity structure. So, in my view, there’s been a tiny image of a female character on my shruthi-1 / MI modules and I didn’t really care about it one way or the other. In other words, it was fairly innocent / meaningless to me. I’m not really interested in any religion these days, but I grew up Christian. Had there been an image of Jesus or maybe Moses or something like that, I probably would’ve thought that was… strange? weird? I can’t say if it would’ve bothered me beyond that, but that’s just me. My mom probably would flip her lid, but that’s another story for another day.

I disagree with the thought that cultural appropriation doesn’t exist. I think saying that appropriation doesn’t exist is akin to ignoring it as an issue. Though, it probably is very difficult to delineate when culture exchange is actually culture appropriation. Right now, I think we’re seeing a lot of what we deemed “normal behavior” being turned on its ear. Interesting times, indeed. I’m rambling now, so I’ll just leave it at that.


#14

First thing first, it’s unlikely you will find any figurine with recently manufactured modules, having switched entirely to wooden toys at the beginning of 2017. I had received earlier complaints and I acted accordingly.

I am perfectly aware of the political mess that Modi’s India is, and this is in part why we haven’t set foot there for a while. We have reasons to fear for our safety. I see what the ideology did to people I used to enjoy having conversations with. Yes, it’s devastating.

I disagree with the cultural appropriation accusation (and by writing this, I’m shooting myself in the foot because I know that it’s an argument I can only lose – but I’m happy to lose anyway). I have been in an inter-cultural relationship for about 15 years and through the people I interact with, the news I read, the media I consume, the food I eat, or maybe more superficially the jewellery or clothes I wear and the occasional festival we celebrate, India has had a strong, defining presence in my life. You’re denying the very fabric of my life by implying that it would be foreign to me. The right of people to self-determine, through what they do and how they live, rather than through the randomness of birth, is a very important matter to me. My natal culture is not Indian, it’s French White Trash. Frankly, making Eurorack panels about shoplifting at La Foir’Fouille, the dumb TV shows that have been my only cultural landscape for way too long, the bullies and relatives that beat the crap out of me because I was “different”, or the nerd/geek/sci-fi culture that ended up being even more alienating and never worked as the shelter it promised to be… not my thing. There’s not much French culture has ever done for me besides Bourbaki, Pérec and Des Petits Hauts. Oh and de Nerval. But it’s only a minor part of me. As much bigotry and hate there is in India, it happened to be the place from where originate the weirdos who have been the most accepting with me. And I’m willing to see through the mud of cow vigilantism, rationalist assassinations, and stoopid economic policies and just hope for change ahead, hope that all the right meanings will finally be attached to the huge sea of symbols floating there. (If I were to elaborate on this: India has invented powerful symbols, and beautiful ideas attached to them. I’m not aware of any other place with visual/linguistic shortcuts for, say, tying music to knowledge, the-world-as-narration, or gender-fluidity. The ideas got lost and ironically I believe that blind devotion, bigotry is the Western idea that got superimposed to the symbols – but I digress).

If I were to design (or more likely, request a design for…) a Mutable Instruments logo in 2018, I would do it differently. I might keep the reference though, stylize it even more. But don’t take me wrong - I wouldn’t do this to respect sensibilities (“it offends my sensibility” – isn’t it part of the problem?). I would do it because accusations of cultural appropriation are an act of rare violence I am vulnerable to, and I don’t want to experience this even once again. I would do it, also, because I am particularly annoyed at the unwanted association with meditation, ayurvedic scented oils and psy-trance. Ultimately, I would do it because I fooled myself thinking that intentions do matter – while I forgot we live into a world where it’s only the readings that count.

I still stand by what I have written in 2013, about the need to separate the visual symbols from the religious ideology. I am still confident in my ability to distinguish the nod, the allusion. As I type this message, I look up at this little square-foot of bliss:

I look behind me and there is this:

Religious in its inspiration and origins? Very probably. Does it serve the purposes of hindutva? Hell no.


#15

As a buddhist for over 20 years (and a former monk) and eurorack ‘mutable’ appreciator, from his actions, reading and also hearing Olivier’s point of view on things modular and other, I personally feel he has quite the utmost regard (as much as a human can) for respecting people, cultures and happiness without being biased in any way or abundantly religious. I have the utmost respect and gratitude for who he is and what he is sharing with the world.

Most everyone always looks back and with wisdom and hindsight, would chose to do things differently.

It’s just a shame that collectively as a race, instead of people becoming emotionally stronger, ‘having thicker skin’ (as my mother told me for school), less judgemental, compassionate or tolerant amongst other attributes;
We have became more divisive, needy, easily offended, immature, hateful, etc (I’ll stop there!!)

Life is too short. Search for your truth. Have fun while you do. And don’t sweat the small stuff. x


#16

If Mutable Instruments products were adorned with this, then your (the OP’s) complaint might have merit:

But they don’t. Rather they bear a small, highly stylised representation of Saraswati, which, as discussed, is semiotically a perfect fit for the Mutable product line. And which, as Olivier says, carries no hint of hindutva ideology.

In fact, Saraswati is not even specific to the Hindu pantheon — she is venerated in Buddhist traditions throughout South East Asia. In Thai she is known as Surasawadi (I have a Thai friend who is named after her). Here is the emblem of the Faculty of Arts at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok - yeah, it’s Surasawadi:

image

And in Japan, there are many temples which feature statues of Benzaiten, as Saraswati is called there. And of course, the Yellow Magic edition of the Mutable Instruments Shruthi synth featured a depiction of Benzaiten, manga-style:

image

And finally, just to further illustrate the lack of religious reverance with which these Mutable Instruments references to Saraswati are made, here she is on the Polivoks filter board PCB for the MI Shruthi, wearing a Russian ushanka complete with a Soviet star:

All by way of saying that I think the OP is being a bit precious, and his or her complaints are rather specious.


#17

No need to be upset. I find these kinds of discussions very interesting. Some symbols are in fact used overly careless - with no bad intention but still.

Yes, some are hypersensitive and get insulted by everything. Others are careless and use symbols without even thinking about what meaning may be attached to them. (I mean: in general. I’m not saying OP or Olivier fall into any of these categories)
Discussions like this one are vital in finding the balance between both sides. We can all learn from listening to everyone’s valid arguments. So what’s wrong about that, @BennelongBicyclist?


#18

In retrospect, some of these variations were mmm… a bit too much.


#19

This raises an interesting question about “tainted” symbols. The way swastikas are going to be forever taboo in the West… it’s kind of sad, because in itself it’s a visually striking symbol. I’ve noticed that I learnt a strong negative association to lotuses.

I wonder if there are designers trying to reclaim those symbols.


#20

Buddhist temples are marked on maps (including Google Maps) in Japan with left-facing swastikas ( sauwastika) — it always makes me do a double-take: