Cultural appropriation: why is Beyoncé in a sari offensive

Of indianenveren at Victoria’s Secret to dreadlocks by Marc Jacobs: the world of fashion, plucks at will from other cultures. Where does ‘inspiration’ and start a costume play that people of foreign origin to insults? Time for a discussion, and learn a new word: cultural appropriation.

© Charlotte Trounce

All that whining about cultural appropriation.” When Marc Jacobs last year after the presentation of his SS17-collection bins criticism on him was because he is white models with colored dreadlocks had used, he got not where people feel pressure to be made. “I see no color or race, I just see people.” Social media explained to him the fire to the shins. “When a black man’s dreadlocks is wearing, he is accused of unprofessional stoner, but when a white fashion designer it does to his white models is all of a sudden, boho chic,” said one twitterer. On August 8, 2017 seems to be the designer his opinion revised. “Maybe I’m a bit insensitive”, he noted in an interview with InStyle.

The discussion about the appropriation of cultural elements that is not yours in the name of creativity rages fierce fashion statement. Proponents suggest that it is just that mix of cultures is to ensure that we have such a diverse and rich society. That the modelandschap pretty boring would look like if designers only in their own backyard should look.

© Charlotte Trounce

Wearing ‘exotic’ clothes by westerners has a long history. Who in the archives, dive and take a look in the wardrobe of the gentry through the centuries, see luxurious fabrics from the Far East, turbans decorated with ostrich feathers from the Regency period, the Persian Banyan jacket from the eighteenth century, the Egypt-inspired embroidery of the twenties, the sides maopakjes that in the fifties were popular, by Russian folklore-inspired work of Paul Poiret at the beginning of the twentieth century… The list is endless, confirms Emmanuelle Dirix, professor of costume history at the Antwerp Academy and opleidingshoofd of the Fashion Branding with Communication course at Leeds College of Art.

“As long as it is with respect and sufficient research is done, is to achieve inspiration from foreign cultures into being is not wrong and can even be positive and surprising results,” said Dirix. “For example, look at the fashion of the beginning of the twentieth century, when other fashion house Callot Soeurs descent made with the corset based on Arab and Moorish kledingdracht. Whom nothing of patterns and the construction of a garment, it would be these influences have not seen – they were not copies, but the structural adjustments that a very large impact on how the woman was dressed.”

Innovative ideas to emerge from the exchange of thoughts, through the acquisition of new insights and techniques and sometimes even a culture shock. It is for these reasons that the studies of the past and other cultures is important to the Antwerp fashion academy. The second year of the bachelor programme is in the sign of ‘historical costumes’, while those who are in their third bachelor’s degree are affected should be immersed in ‘ethnic costumes’. That means that the students of the costume study, and then to form, color and proportions as faithfully as possible to reproduce, but with new, alternative materials. “That was a course when we, as the Antwerp Six were studying”, head of department Walter Van Beirendonck know. “They are interesting commands that are intended to encourage the students and to bring them into contact with cultures which they have not been investigated. This, for them, strange colors, patterns, fabrics and techniques can inspire them, so that they these impressions can be translated to their own ideas and designs.” Walter Van Beirendonck adds that the respect for these cultures is important and that literal copies are not to be tolerated.

Inspiration or appropriatie?

© Charlotte Trounce


The difference with cultural exchange – which it is often confused – is that a dominant group of symbols and use inherits from a group that they have for decades (and maybe still is) dominated.

It is logical that the teaching of an Indian embroidery technique your toolbox enlarges and that the study of the different ways in which people in Peru alpaca wool covers can lead to a better knowledge of the material. When a designer has a weakness for Southeast Asia, it is also almost inevitable that impressions of that region in his or her work will return, and sometimes it can be the viewing of a documentary about birds of paradise, a new vision provoke. That kind of influences and stimuli which are essential for the development of our cultural baggage and the inspiration for aspiring creative brain.

But where does inspiration and appreciation and start appropriation?

In Van Dale do you think ‘cultural appropriation’ for the time being not to return, but Oxford Dictionaries defines cultural appropriation as the (unacknowledged or inappropriate) adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. or one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. The word dominant is perhaps the cornerstone of the whole discussion.

“Cultural appropriation stems from an imbalance of ‘power'”, writes Purple Z. Johnson on the digital platform Everyday Feminism. “The difference with cultural exchange – which it is often confused – is that a dominant group of symbols and use inherits from a group that they have for decades (and maybe still is) dominated. It’s not fair, it is not an exchange and it is sometimes even a continuation of that oppression.”

‘Cultural appropriation’ was the past of the years, more used in the news reports about the visitors of the music festival Coachella that an indian verentooi on the hair or put a bindi (red dot)on their forehead would glue, about Kylie Jenner that her hair in cornrows vlocht and so a new ‘trend’, and on Urban Outfitters, that important Navajo-patterned cut-off denim shorts printed. Then Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri their SS16 collection for Valentino on the Kikuyu of Kenya based, but do have white models used, the internet is too small.

Battle in the face

The seemingly innocent events, which are sometimes even dismissed as a model of multiculturalism. “We embrace those cultures just? What is the problem?” There is nothing wrong with that Marc Jacobs are white models colored dreadlocks to his vision to bring to life, or that Kylie Jenner her her invlecht because ‘they like’. However, it is important to zoom out and look at the context in which this happens. Cornrows, dreadlocks, twisted locks, afro’s… these are the hairstyles that quite a few American schools still prohibited for African-American children, and that generally as ‘unprofessional’ and ‘unhygienic’. It is for that reason that black men are their hair as short as possible, shave and black women their curls, trying to tame it with chemicals, but as much as possible on her fellow white man to appear. A white realityster seen showing off a hairstyle that them ensures that they are at the airport for a “random security check’ from the queue to be removed is so pretty confronting.

© Charlotte Trounce

“In an ideal world, people would be free to wear the clothes and hairstyle to wear that they want, but in this society is the use of someone else’s cultural symbols to your need for ‘self-expression’ to satisfy a proof of your privilege. For those who feel compelled to change themselves, to share their culture and who they are out to erase to get enough respect to get the resources to ‘self – expression’ do is still quite limited,” says the Nigerian-American writer Jarune Uwujaren.


For those who feel compelled to change themselves, to share their culture and who they are out to erase to get enough respect to get the resources to ‘self – expression’ to do is still pretty limited

“For westerners is adopting our symbols more a game, a costume play”, writes Vice-journalist Zoya Patel. “When I was growing up I was often bullied by my traditional Indian clothing. Such a Beyoncé or Gwen Stefani that a sari wears as a fashion statement, feels sometimes like a blow in the face, because they can choose to ‘costume’ to do at the end of the day. I can’t escape the fact that I am Indian, will continue to look. In addition, those symbols are important to me.”

Flosjen searched

Posts about cultural appropriation on a sigh and a oogrol received. It is after all still ‘only’ a Halloweenkostuum, yet ‘but’ a jewel, ‘but’ a hair dressing. “We mean nothing bad with it!” But what for the one is trivial it seems, is for the other perhaps essential. The bindi is for example for you might be just a fine festivalaccessoire, but hindoevrouwen consider it the spiritual third eye, or ‘ajna, the forehead chakra.

“You can not expect them to research going to do everything they from the cabinet draw when they go to a festival,” says Bart Roman, co-founder of the Belgian music-, fashion – and foodfestival WeCanDance, that around a certain theme, is built up. This year’s theme, Desert Dreams – an approach that already has some fashionistas tweets à la “looking for some oversized shirt with flosjen to wear on #WCD17” elicited. “We require you not to be in the theme of dress, and not at all that they are traditional cultural clothing to wear,” says Roman. “We want to free their creativity flowing. At the same time, we want them also not to condemn, we are there mainly to give them a great time to do experience.”

Although it is not always possible to be aware of the meaning of different cultural symbols, it is important that you acknowledge and accept that the meaning there is. “When you protest wegwuift because something is for you ‘but it’s really not as heavily outweighing’, you’re basically saying that your world view takes precedence over that of the other, and that they are there but not so heavy to have to lift,” said Purple Z. Johnson.

© Charlotte Trounce

“Cultural appropriationontstaat when you the value of what you inherit does not understand, respects and makes accessible”, argues the Dutch anthropologist Malika Ouacha. They see increasingly how the elements of the berbercultuur (wrongly) be taken over in the contemporary world of fashion and interiors. “You notice that ‘berber’ is a popular prefix is a sales strategy, but that very few people actually know what it stands for. In the whole commercialiseringsproces you lose decisively the essence of the symbols and materials and the development process behind those products. That is really problematic”


When you protest wegwuift because something is for you ‘but it’s really not as heavily outweighing’, you’re basically saying that your world view takes precedence over that of the other, and that they are there but not so heavy to have to lift

Of man to be the mascot

Ouacha argues that not only the products, but also the culture attached to it is in this way devalued. “It is very offensive to a people to be reduced to ‘elements we like’. It is a civilization, not a static given.” Also Ouacha’s American colleague, Adrienne Keene, got this problem already several times on her popular blog, Native Appropriations, where the anthropologist of Cherokee heritage, investigating the appropriation of her culture.

© Charlotte Trounce

“I’ve spent years invisibly felt, because the only images my classmates or colleagues of natives saw false stereotypes. There are 566 different Native American tribes in the United States, each with their own customs and traditions, yet we are reduced to one-dimensional mascots with verentooi, frozen in time – or worse: to an exotic extinct breed that was once on American soil lived, but today it no longer exists, let alone stands up for his rights and land.”

It is clear that cultural appropriation is a great emotional and moral impact, but the discussion around what it actually is, still contains a lot of grey areas. Should you have a kimono over your jeans to wear when that kimono comes from Japan? Is it okay for an Indian bracelet to bring home as a souvenir? Or a dress to make from substances that are you in an African shop in Brussels have purchased? There are no clear general guidelines. An important factor to keep in mind is who out of the garments and accessories that are discredited. Emmanuelle Dirix: “A key word that I often miss in the discussion is production: where is it made? Who benefits? If you are really as necessary symbols of a culture should use, make sure at least that the culture that is involved and that they are something to see.”

Support the tribe

Adrienne Keene points out that the so-called ‘tribal’ prints can be seen as the intellectual property of the natives. “And if that’s the case, they would be able to trademarken, control and economically benefit from.” “Something called cultural appropriation is not a kiss of death for creativity, it demands that designers take their responsibility and their sources state and compensate,” writes photographer Darío Calmese on Business or Fashion.

A good example of inspiration that has been converted into a cultural exchange instead of appropriation, is Dries Van Noten. He often makes the mustard with Indian colors and embroidery, but also has actually a studio in India, where 3,000 employees a fair wage for his clothing to develop. In his exhibition Inspirations devoted to the Acquisition for even a full angle to the talent of these artisans.


The purpose of the whole discussion is not to give people a sense of guilt to talk to or to accessories, hairstyles and items of clothing to lists where you as a white, western person better not arrive.

Philippe Vertriest understands that the exchange of ideas and funds should go. For the prints of his fashion label, Akaso does he appeal to the bodypaintkunst of the Ethiopian Kara tribe, for which he these people pay out as freelance designers. “I had also just go there to travel, anywhere photos can take, and then my in-house design team can show, but that would not be right. I wish the Kara truly bring to the table, and I wanted to understand what the drawings wanted to say. Something like that tell them you’re really not after one visit. I have clear for the difficult route chosen, but in this way, it is all authentic.”

© Charlotte Trounce

The exchange of ideas, styles and traditions is inevitable in a globalised world and would be just the cornerstone of a multicultural society. “In principle, the interest of western designers in multicultural art and use so nice and big, and really things can change,” says Malika Ouacha. “But at the moment I mainly see missed opportunities. The conversation around cultural exchange versus cultural appropriation is a symbooldiscussie become.”

A symbooldiscussie that the same platitudes can be cited. “Cultural appropriation to say that black people think that white people are not braids in their hair.’ However, it is the intention of the whole discussion is not to give people a sense of guilt to talk to or to accessories, hairstyles and items of clothing to lists where you as a white, western person better not arrive, writes Antonia Opiah in Teen Vogue. “It’s not even about that garments or haardrachten in itself, but to all the mechanisms behind it. The goal is to have more equality in cultural and economic terms, in an industry where sometimes something to loose, it is treated with ‘inspiration’.” As a fashion lover and consumer, you wear also a responsibility to realize that what you wear won’t be so complexloos is as it seems. “Clothing has always a meaning,” says Emmanuelle Dirix. “It is a visual language that we use to make us stand out and to communicate with which groups we hear or not to hear, and even to beliefs.”

Fashion does not exist in a vacuum, in which garments, fabrics and techniques ‘just’ aesthetically interesting, but arises and is worn against the background of ancient (colonial) history, cultural traditions and social sensibilities. As long as you understand, you ask questions to why you are certain exotic clothing or accessories that you are wearing and where they come from, and you’re willing to listen to these sensitivities, when you pointed out, you are all a huge step further. In short: check yourself, before you dress yourself.

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