Cultural appropriation: homage or theft?Saturday 22 October, 10.00 - 11.30 , Conservatory Culture Wars
From rows over repatriating artefacts in Western museum collections to controversies over alleged ‘cultural appropriation’ at college parties and music festivals of garb such as sombreros and native American headdresses, the argument over who owns culture has become louder of late. There are growing demands for Western cultural institutions to repatriate art and artefacts that ended up in museums during the colonial era, to their countries of origin. There have long been demands for the repatriation of artefacts such as the Elgin marbles which were taken in dubious circumstances or the Benin bronzes which were carried off as war booty, but demands have now widened to calls for the return of pieces which were given as gifts such as the Nefertiti Bust in Berlin’s Neues Museum, or bought such as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus at the British Museum. Should museums acquiesce to these demands or would that undermine their universalist mission as repositories of world history? Some argue such artifacts belong to all of humanity and not just those in the geographical area where they were created, but is this just a convenient excuse for holding onto cultural booty?
And while Minstrel performers in blackface have long been considered beyond the pale in entertainment, recently the scope of what is considered offensive mimicry of other cultures has grown wider. Ire is directed at the fashion choices of popstars, such as Justin Bieber for sporting dreadlocks and Beyoncé for wearing a sari and henna tattoos. Meanwhile yoga classes at the University of Ottawa in Canada were cancelled late last year after they were accused of perpetuating ‘oppression, cultural genocide … colonialism and western supremacy’ over Indian culture. While the Museum of Fine Arts Boston was branded ‘racist and imperialist’ and sparked protests when it allowed visitors to try on replicas of 19th century Japanese kimonos. A welcome new sensitivity to cultural difference, or political correctness gone mad?
More generally, are assertions of cultural ownership of certain practices, dress and historical artefacts a way of addressing historical wrongs perpetrated by the West on colonised peoples? Or do such demands seek to define us into neat cultural boxes whose borders can never be crossed and hence divide us move than bring us together?
writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there
singer, writer and performer; CDs include, The Man in the Long Black Coat and From Stockport to Memphis
professor of philosophy, University of Hertfordshire
social psychologist & lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London
executive director, Illinois Humanities; former City of Chicago’s deputy arts commissioner
A Point of View: When does borrowing from other cultures become 'appropriation'?, BBC News, March 2016
http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/black-san-francisco-student-filmed-harassing-white-student-because-of-his-dreadlocks-i, Aftab Ali, Independent, March 2016
What's wrong with cultural appropriation, Kat Blaque, Kat Blaque / YouTube, October 2015
Bieber's dreadlocks: Appropriation or appreciation? , Kirsty Wark, BBC Newsnight / YouTube, April 2016
What's The Difference Between Inspiration & Insult?, Dodai Stewart, Jezebel, September 2008
The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation, Jarune Uwujaren, everyday feminism, September 2013
Lionel Shriver's full speech: 'I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad', Lionel Shriver, Guardian, September 2016
As Lionel Shriver made light of identity, I had no choice but to walk out on her, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Guardian, September 2016
Lionel Shriver is right, Izzy Lyons, Spiked, September 2016