Exploration vs. Exploitation

By Kirsty

Collage by Rachel

Something obvious that comes to mind when you think of tradition, after celebrations or rituals, is traditional dress. Nearly every culture has a form of traditional clothing, whether the idea is an actual tradition still today, or derived from (often highly exaggerated) stereotypes from TV. There’s been a lot more attention lately, or at least I’ve become more involved in, the idea of cultural appropriation, and something that’s stuck with me was something Amanda Palmer said on her twitter account- “all art appropriates. it is the nature of art. all appropriation is exploration”. It’s true- all industries use inspiration and ideas from other cultures, but how far can this exploration and appreciation go before it really is just exploitative?

My first introduction to cultural appropriation was on a tumblr post (of course THE best source of information), talking about the completely unneeded featuring of Native American headdresses in the video for Ride by Lana Del Rey, and How to Be a Heartbreaker by Marina and the Diamonds. Arguably, Native American traditional outfit gets exploited the most in pop culture; from racist Halloween costumes, to ‘quirky’ festival wear, to popular music videos, leaving most people unaware that that these items are racist. Can a two second clip in a music video really be considered as art and explorative? From where I stand, the brief footage of the headdresses wasn’t particularly adding any meaning or culture to the videos, and wasn’t related to the context- which begs the question: why was it featured? I’d assume it wasn’t featured with the aim to be appropriative, or offensive in any way, so the only justifiable idea would be for trend or style, which is fairly problematic.

Another ‘trend’ which I’ve seen embraced by many fashion bloggers and music artists, especially over summer, is white girls wearing bindis. Traditionally, bindis are worn by Hindu women, on the sixth chakra (between the eyebrows) as a representation of the third eye, for wisdom and concentration. However, now as they’re being worn for style and ‘individuality’, the religious significance is losing meaning to many people. I’m sure across time the meaning within Hindu culture has changed or loosened- originally bindis were for married women- but does that mean that it’s ok to transfer it into a solely fashion item, outside of specific cultures?

I could continue with examples, but honestly appropriation is nearly everywhere when you start looking; as much as she tries to be creative and original, Lady Gaga is a repeat offender, and one of the biggest pop singers in the media. I don’t think I’ve seen any comments about her appropriative nature in mainstream media, opposed to the hundreds of highly accessible articles talking about every other aspect of her life. As she claims herself, the Lady is all about innovative fashion inspired by all types of art, and this could very well be the exploration Amanda Palmer was talking about, however the sexualisation of already controversial religious-wear like burkas and naqab, I think, transcends what should be acceptable as artistic exploration.

I’m not making any solid decisions here; I’m only just becoming involved in the topic and as a teenage white girl myself, who am I to judge what does and doesn’t offend people of other cultures? I can only decide what I wear and avoid things that I think are offensive. That, and try to educate people on the topic that’s so unheard of, to allow them to make their own decisions once they’re aware.


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