Don’t dread the dread: art and imitation

Colin Donnelly explores cultural appropriation in history and fashion after Marc Jacob’s reinterpretation of dreadlocks

Source: Vimeo.

Last year it was Valentino’s collection which was inspired by “wild Africa”, now Marc Jacob’s use of dreadlocks. Wikipedia defines cultural appropriation as “the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another.” Some call this cultural appropriation; I would just call it culture. The adaptation of new and different ideas is precisely what drives culture forward.

Tchaikovsky’s immortal Nutcracker, in which the Russian composer included stereotypically Chinese and Arab sounding motifs, Isaac Mizrahi’s Native American inspired Fall 1991 collection and at least half of Mozart’s operas including The Magic Flute could qualify as culturally appropriative. Everything, if you trace it back far enough, has crossed cultural borders at one time or another. The best artists of all kinds draw on a variety of cultures and ideas—that is what makes their art powerful. No one “owns” any story or music or hairstyle. From whom, precisely, are artists supposed to ask permission before being inspired by a culture to which they do not belong? Later this month, there will be a discussion at Barnard College in New York about whether or not Yoga and Zumba are permissible under the new strictures of cultural appropriation.

By the same logic I suspect that the Greek Society at Barnard will soon lodge a protest against the school allowing non-Greek students to participate in track & field athletic events as, after all, this constitutes cultural appropriation from the originally Greek Olympic Games.

Students at Oberlin have actually protested the presence of sushi in the dining hall, as it is prepared by white chefs and is hence insensitive. Imagine not being able to eat any food but that traditionally prepared by your own ethnic group. Imagine not being able to write anything from a perspective other than your own. Imagine not being able to exercise in whatever manner you please.

Imagine a world without Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart, Mark Twain, or James Baldwin. This is the type of world denigrators of cultural appropriation are driving us to. It is not one I ever wish to enter.