Cultural appropriation

Our current society is marked by globalisation: you can get almost anything from almost everywhere around the world. Boundaries fade and cultures come closer together. The process of globalization tends to transform certain lifestyles and cultures from local to global entities. Trends in India can be worn by Europeans, music styles from Africa can be used in America. Culture flows and shows to be fluid.

However, taking on certain elements of particular cultures can be seen as racist and insensitive. A white person wearing Native American headdress is regarded by some as discriminating and disrespectful. It has been discussed widely across various media and considers the fashion and music industry, but also other sectors. But does cultural appropriation always has to be a bad thing? In which ways can it be considered as something that is respectful and an expression of appreciation?

Oskar Metsavaht, the founder of fashion brand Olsken, inspired his latest collection on an Amazonian tribe. To some, this might be seen as a negative way of cultural appropriation. However, Metsavaht states that his collection is not made to copy the culture, but the be inspired by it. His creativity is also of positive influence for the Amazonian tribe, who benefit from his collection and the message it puts out there.

The fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation can be guided by fashion magazines as they can communicate the meaning and thought behind a fashion piece to the audience. Fashion can be seen as art, and art is always something that is subject to different interpretation. However, it is important to be respectful and thoughtful towards other cultures… not only when making a fashion collection.

Some artists in the music industry have been criticized on appearance and in particular (hair) styles. For example, Justin Bieber with his dread, Beyonce in her sari and Taylor Swift in her b-boy alter ego. The question here is whether or not the culture is being exploited or explored.

This again is the issue of communication. What is the message they are trying to put out there? Furthermore, these artists are seen as role models. They in particular have the responsibility as they are of major influence on youngsters all around the world.

Cultural appropriation is also seen in the living sector. How many people do you know that have a Buddha statue in their living room? Probably quite a few. And when you consider human movement, how many people in your inner circle practice yoga? What about tattoos in the language of different cultures? You probably know someone that has some sort of Chinese or Arabic statement on their body. These examples prove that cultural appropriation is part of many sectors in our lives and influences the way we consider cultural differences.

Culture can be used as a way to form your identity and personal branding. When someone with a totally different cultural background uses this cultural aspect that defines you, it can harm your feeling of authenticity and uniqueness. But, despite all criticism, cultural appropriation can mean cultural appreciation, as the values that these objects to the original culture can differ from the values that others assign to these objects. In that sense, it has a different cultural meaning to everyone involved and is therefore a cultural expression on it’s own, instead of an exploitation.

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