So what is cultural appropriation?
First off, “appropriation” is defined by the oxford dictionary as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” So cultural appropriation; therefore, is defined as “the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another.”
Susan Scafidi, a Fordham law professor, describes cultural appropriation in more detail as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It's most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”
When cultural appropriation occurs, the group responsible for the appropriation is usually referred to as the “dominant culture;” likewise, the appropriated group is referred to as the “minority culture.” So for one, cultural appropriation takes credit away from the minority culture from which the tradition, object, or action is taken. The dominant culture ends up being associated with art, music, and tradition that rightly belongs to the minority. In this sense, cultural appropriation is the theft of intellectual and cultural property. This creates a negative loop in which dominant cultures are seen as innovative, while minority cultures are seen as considerably inferior.
But there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by the art or traditions from different cultures. This is where the line between appropriation and inspiration becomes somewhat blurred.
Think about this example:
When I was doing my research for this post, I read an article about Oskar Metsavaht, designer for Osklen, a Brazilian sportswear brand.
Metsavaht drew inspiration from the Ashaninka tribe, a South American tribe spanning from Brazil to the Peruvian Andes, for Osklen’s 2016 collection. Metsavaht decided to work alongside the Ashaninka’s to create a collection that promotes awareness for illegal logging and environmental degradation. While visiting the Ashaninka’s, Metsavaht worked with the people to create prints, motifs, and concepts that would become the Osklen 2016 spring collection.
So, is this still cultural appropriation? Let me know what you guys think.