Cultural Appropriation. Expressive or Offensive?

The topic of cultural appropriation, the good, the bad and the offensive, is one that’s frequently discussed among my inner-circles. Living in London, in the world’s most iconic cultural melting pot exposes me to various cultural currents that run through me. So the way I might express my culture has now evolved beyond  my ethnicity, race and that of my parents. It’s also at times, threatened, reinforced and influenced by the rainbow of cultures around me.

However, as fluid as these experiences are, the authenticity of any temporary adoption of someone else’s culture is questionable. As a Black-British African, who often finds herself flinching at the never ending Safari-themed and zebra printed cliche’s that make an attempt to summarise my unsummarizable culture; where does cultural appropriation draw the line between expressive and offensive? 

It’s the way culture is appropriated, not the appropriation itself 

Riccardo Tisci’s “Victorian Cholas” inspired both criticism and appreciation when he presented the Givenchy fall 2015 collection. In addition to oversized and bejeweled faux facial piercings, the models were styled with curled, slick baby hairs along the hairline — a look lifted from Black and Latina subcultures that many also now associate with FKA Twigs and that popped up last year at DKNY. And while Givenchy’s model casting wasn’t as diverse as it could have been, it wasn’t as bad as Valentino’s Spring 2016 show, a boldly African inspired collection, with cornrow wearing models strutted over 90 looks. Yet there was a real sense of cultural robbery to see that less than 10 of the looks than went down the runway were modelled by black models. 

Designers getting their inspiration from different cultures is certainly not a negative thing, but it’s often the way it’s presented that feels wrong. 

givenchy 15 fall cultural appropriation fashion runway culture afroblush

Cultural Appropriation – A conversation 

As I was exploring this I came across Sanaa Hamid on Tumblr. Sanna is a photographer and after a brief discussion, she invited me to be a character in her visual narrative exploring the challenges and opportunities of managing cultural appropriation in mainstream fashion and media.

This body of work is an exploration of the extent of cultural appropriation and encourages a discussion about it. In this work, Sanaa gives the appropriator and the appropriated the opportunity to defend themselves and create a dialogue between them, while maintaining a neutral stance myself.

It is not an attack on those who appropriate, but rather merely educating and creating awareness. Neutrality is key in this series. As part of this project I was asked to remove myself from my political and social status and opinions, stripping the problem to the most basic issue: taking an item that means a great deal to somebody and altering it. .