Monday, June 27, 2016

Appropriate Appropriation

Dear Korean,

I am an art student and I am currently interested in Asian art. I am really intrigued by traditional Asian art, including Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean but I am worried that because I’m white people may believe I am appropriating Asian culture, I truly just wish to explore this style of art, i.e. prints, ink works and make artworks that are relevant to my culture in an Asian style. I know that you do not speak for every Asian country and I also know about the many differences in culture and art but I would just like an insight to if what I am doing is in anyway offensive because the last thing I would want is to offend anyone or lead anyone to believe I am racist or ignorant.

Cait


Here, we have the biggest conversation among Asian Americans. "Cultural appropriation" is a fairly recently crafted set of ethical rules, and its boundaries are still very fuzzy. But the boundaries do become a lot more visible once we understand the core principle behind cultural appropriation.

(source)

What is cultural appropriation? Cultural appropriation is a use of cultural artifacts as a prop. People generally tend to know this much. But they are often unclear on exactly why cultural appropriation is bad. Expressed as simply as possible, here is why: cultural appropriation is bad because using cultural artifacts as a prop leads to treating the people of that culture as a prop, rather than whole persons. This is the core principle behind cultural appropriation.

Understanding this core principle alone answers many tricky questions that are emerging cultural appropriation. For example: take this infamous instance of Katy Perry's kimono get-up. Asian Americans were nearly unanimous in their denunciation, but the Japanese in Japan seemed not to care. This disconnect is easier to understand once we understand the core principle: what matters is objectification, humans being turned into a prop. Asian Americans are constantly surrounded by non-Asian Americans who always stand ready to objectify them. Japanese in Japan belong to the nation of 127 million of the same ethnicity, and are almost never in danger of being objectified by the person next to them. Of course there will be a difference in reaction between the two groups.

But the mainstream society is hardly the only one that is ignorant of the core principle; Asian American themselves likewise often are unaware of it. This leads to a variation of "magic word racism." Previously, I explained that "magic word racism" is an attempt to detect racism by the presence or absence of certain words or phrases. Utter the forbidden "Word X," and you must be considered a racist. The same dumb logic can be found in at least some charges of cultural appropriation. Using any cultural artifact in any way must be cultural appropriation, regardless of the particular context and manner of the particular usage. This is wrong, just as much as magic word racism is wrong.

What, then, is an art student like Cait to do? The first thing is: study. Context-sensitive exploration of Asian arts cannot happen if you don't know the context. The ultimate challenge is to develop an internal view of the culture that you're exploring. Through whose eyes are you viewing the culture? Are you seeing it from the perspective of the people who created that culture, or are you seeing it from the eyes of the outsider? Do you understand the sense of aesthetics that led the people to create a cultural artifact, or does your mind stop at the outside shell of the artifact? Do you see the flow of history that led to the creation of this culture, or do you only see the here and now as if the culture fell on your lap from another dimension? Are you actively exploring what the people are saying about themselves, among themselves, in their own language, or are you merely hearing what other white people are saying about the exotic colored people?

These questions naturally lead to self-reflection. What is it about Asian culture and art that attracts you, the non-Asian artist? Lesser people would simply say they "just want it"--a bad answer, because in most cases, they are simply filtering the mainstream society that stands ready to use Asian culture as a prop. Stop the unthinking, and ask this essential question for understanding yourself: why do you want what you want?

This study need not be in isolation. You will keep talking and keep creating, and learn more from the reactions. And in the process, you will offend some people--usually those who are in the hunt for magic word racism, ready to pounce on their made-up rules. Don't get discouraged; keep plugging away. Because more often than not, a sincere willingness to learn overcomes any mistakes along the way.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.

16 comments:

  1. I think there's any additional layer to cultural appropriation that occurs when someone in a privileged group sells stuff from non-privileged cultures. Now, the privileged group, which has access to more markets, may be crowding out the demand for the stuff from people from the original, non-privileged group.
    ***
    There's also strange stuff that happens when the stuff being appropriated is religious or symbolic in the original culture. For example, on the internet at least there are plenty of people of Indian descent who believe yoga is part of their spiritual practice and are offended when other people do it without the accompanying mental practices and spiritual beliefs. I'm an atheist, so to me it's just exercise, but why offend people when I can just stretch or do Pilates instead?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic! I have been curious about this topic lately myself. I've been fascinated by different Asian cultures for many years, and would love to formally study more about them and cultures in general, and am currently navigating the mental waters of how to do that appropriately, without offense. I know that I won't be able to understand the different cultures I learn about the same way as someone who grew up in them, but can I still become a credible scholar for social problems between different cultures based on a variety of factors as a white girl from the midwest? Am I racist against myself? Thanks for posting your response to this question posed by Cait, TK, and the encouragement to keep studying and learning as we bumble along.

    ReplyDelete
  3. telasmosquiteira-sp.com.br

    telas mosquiteira
    telas mosquiteiro

    As telas mosquiteira sp , telas mosquiteiro sp garantem ar puro por toda casa livrando-a completamente dos mosquitos e insetos indesejáveis. As telas mosquiteira garantem um sono tranquilo a toda família, livrando e protegendo-nas dos mais diversos insetos. Muitos destes insetos são transmissores de doenças e a tela mosquiteira é indispensável no combate a mosquitos transmissores de doenças.

    A dengue, por exemplo, já matou centenas de pessoas só na capital de São Paulo e um pequeno investimento em nossas telas mosquiteiras podem salvar vidas. As telas mosquiteiras também impedem a entrada de insetos peçonhentos como as aranhas e os escorpiões, estes insetos também oferecem risco, pois seu veneno em poucos minutos podem levar uma criança a morte.
    telas mosquiteira jundiai
    telas mosquiteiro jundiai
    telas mosquiteira aplhaville
    telas mosquiteiro alphaville
    telas mosquiteira granja viana
    telas mosquiteiro granja vinana
    telas mosquiteira cotia
    telas mosquiteiro cotia
    telas mosquiteira tambore
    telas mosquiteiro tambore

    A chegada da temporada Primavera/Verão traz consigo a elevação da temperatura e a maior ocorrência de chuvas. Mas não é só isso. As estações mais quentes do ano causam muita dor de cabeça e muitos zumbidos indesejáveis em função das pragas urbanas – pernilongos, baratas, cupins e outros insetos -, que afetam todas as regiões brasileiras.

    Nossa missão é oferecer telas mosquiteiras de qualidade a um preço acessível, fazendo com que as telas mosquiteiras sejam uma opção viável para muitas pessoas.

    telas mosquiteira industrial
    telas mosquiteiro industrial
    telas mosquiteira industria
    telas mosquiteiro industria
    telas mosquiteira restaurante
    telas mosquiteiro restaurante
    telas mosquiteira empresa
    telas mosquiteiro empresa

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article. Thanks for writing it.

    For an artist interested in art from another culture, I think the most important thing, and also the most illuminating thing, along with self-education, would be to seek out and talk with people from that culture, who care about the art that caught your interest. Learn as much as you can from them, again, not just about the art form itself, but also the context it came from, and the reactions it has encountered when it intersects with other cultures and other art. Those conversations will give a good sense of what's cool and respectful, and what isn't.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A major aspect to understanding context is the power relationship between cultures. The power relationship between the dominating white culture and Asian culture creates an underlying tension in any attempt by white culture to explore and express Asian culture, giving it a base assumption of appropriation. A common misappropriation is assuming Asian cultures are similar and lumping cultures together. A small Japanese restaurant caused quite an uproar when they hired young Korean waitresses to wear kimonos while serving. Without understanding the power relationship between Japan and Korea, the long history between the two of constant invasion, and the sexual slavery via "comfort women", there would be no way to understand why hiring Asians for an Asian restaurant wearing Asian clothing could be something to protest about.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In terms of art, particularly, there's a long history of artists in the West being interested in and inspired by art from other parts of the world. Quite relevant to this case would be the huge and well-documented impact that exposure to Japanese woodblock prints had on the Impressionism movement.

    I'm also a white person with a strong interest, both aesthetically and academically, in East Asian artforms, and I've always found that people tend to take it at face value. In fact, quite a few artists/calligraphers whom I've met have been thrilled to find that a young person, regardless of background, is interested enough in their artforms to want to study and learn more about them. So, in your case, I think that as long as you present yourself as someone who is trying to learn, explore, and understand, you are unlikely to be accused of appropriation.

    Since you're particularly interested in creating art, I would say that a good step is to find people who are already practiced in that artform and well-versed in the culture to teach you the techniques. I don't have any idea what kind of environment you're in, but a good place to start would be local cultural centers for Asian groups. There are huge numbers of books on Chinese art and culture, check your local library, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has both a massive collection (much of it digitized) and a lot of free publications that you can read online or download. Other art museums that come to mind are the Pacific Asia museum, the Asia society, the Freer-Sackler galleries at the Smithsonian, and the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell (my alma mater!) (There are lots of questions about the legitimacy of these kinds of collections in the West, and where the artworks came from, which I won't try to deny, but for purposes of visual education, free digitized collections are invaluable.)

    If you do see this comment and can give some idea of where you are, I can try to help recommend more specific places to look for teachers and information!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Hello! Thank you for the information, I come from a the top half of Australia so finding specific resources might be a bit difficult (small population and all that). However, there are plenty of Asian art resources and art in general, I just need to go looking, but thank you anyway.

      Delete
  7. Thank you so much for the reply! It really helped put things into perspective for me and made me question why exactly I had such an interest in Asian art. I feel its a mix of genuine curiosity and an interest in the culture/art form, plus the beautiful aesthtics but its good fun to explore the inner workings of my mind, what do I find interests in? Why? Through my study I have tried to honour Asian art's dignity and cultural significance to the best of my ability. I would never want anyone to feel like a prop or that my interests in any culture/art are superficial, because of this I am going to really have to do my research and try to speak to some actual artists.
    Again thank you so much for taking the time to answer this

    ReplyDelete
  8. In the paragraph above, the writer has indicated the importance of essay writing services reviews and has given a statement, using the first person pronoun, of what she will be doing in the essay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, HAPP Chibuzor, Thanks for posting this informative comment there i sno doubt the writer has indicated the importance of essay writing services reviews and has given a statement, using the first person pronoun. really appreciate you for sharing this, keep up the good work.

      Delete
  9. Lovely Website, Maintain the fantastic work. Thank you so much!
    Local Packers and Movers Ahmedabad list, Cheap Packers Movers Ahmedabad Charges, Affordable, Best Household Shifting Ahmedabad @ Packers and Movers Ahmedabad

    ReplyDelete
  10. Lovely Website, Maintain the fantastic work. Thank you so much!
    Local Packers and Movers Ahmedabad list, Cheap Packers Movers Ahmedabad Charges, Affordable, Best Household Shifting Ahmedabad @ Packers and Movers Ahmedabad

    ReplyDelete
  11. Any help is appreciated
    https://www.gofundme.com/Sontokorea

    ReplyDelete
  12. I must say you had done a tremendous job,I appreciate all your efforts.Thanks alot for your writings......Waiting for a new . please visit:Packers And Movers Bangalore

    ReplyDelete
  13. I'm curious what your standard for "recent" is, since cultural appropriation has been a discussion since the 70s. It's not a new concept, imo. It's just recently been let out of academic circles into the public lexicon.

    ReplyDelete

To prevent spam comments, comments left on posts older than 60 days are subject to moderation and will not appear immediately.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...