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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Cultural appropriation debate: Does it really hurt or are we just over-sensitive?

As an increasing number of celebs get accused of cultural appropriation, we ask designers if the blame is justified or if the issue is being blown out of proportion.

fashion-and-trends Updated: Apr 27, 2017 19:26 IST
Prerna Gauba
Prerna Gauba
Hindustan Times
A clip from the website showcased the maang-tika and called it “chandelier hair-clips”.
A clip from the website showcased the maang-tika and called it “chandelier hair-clips”.

Recently, when a UK-based fashion website put up traditional Indian maang-tikas for sale, calling them “chandelier hair clips”, many infuriated Twitter users called it “appropriation of the historical accessory”. The website removed the article later. A few months ago, the same site had drawn flak for labeling a range of bindis as Halloween items.

More recently, two celebs were accused of cultural appropriation at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Colorado, US. While singer Vanessa Hudgens was accused of the same, by Netizens for sporting a bindi, model Shanina Shaik was crticised for “being white and supporting braids”. Singer Katy Perry was also recently trolled over a post on Instagram when she posted an image of Hindu deity Kali with the caption, “current mood.”

Cultural appropriation is a phrase which has been splashed all over the news lately. But do most of us know what it actually means? One explanation is that it means a situation in which “one subgroup in our society uses the story of another group to create something new,” indicating that such an action can result in stereotyping. Yet, these instances which have been cited, are they appropriation or simple appreciation? A debate ensues. “God is for everyone. To me, she is just expressing her feelings and it doesn’t seem to offend anyone,” says designer Rina Dhaka referring to the social media outburst against Katy Perry. Designer Ridhi Mehra also thinks that sometimes things are blown out of proportion. “Vanessa Hudgens was only promoting our culture, the bindi. I see nothing wrong in it,” she says.

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“Culture doesn’t belong to one. I get inspired by things all over the world. How can someone tell me that a certain thing is not mine?” says designer Anupama Dayal. However, she does feel some amount of care is needed. “ But in the case of this website, correct description of the tikka would have been better,”

However designer Kunal Anil Tanna has a different view. “When one is borrowing an element from a different culture, it always makes sense to be well-informed about its significance. We should represent it appropriately,” he says. Designer Nida Mahmood says that if one is borrowing from another culture, it’s important to respect the origin. “I see nothing wrong in picking up elements from various cultures. Due credit must be given to the culture you’re borrowing from,” she says.

Designer Rimple Narula says that distortion of names of cultural elements to make them “exotic” for a western audience destroys the original meaning of icons. “To take an icon and rename it just to satisfy the needs of the global consumer is wrong,” she says.

Day2 #Coachella

A post shared by Vanessa Hudgens (@vanessahudgens) on

Meet me at main stage ✌🏽

A post shared by SHANINA SHAIK (@shaninamshaik) on

current mood

A post shared by KATY PERRY (@katyperry) on

However, many believe that we live in a homogenous world and it is fair to adapt something from another culture. “Maang tika is a vernacular word. It is an Indian concept which many won’t understand, so it’s fair enough. To look different, we look beyond boundaries. In a unified world, this is ought to happen. Also, there’s nothing wrong with people wearing bindis and adapting them to suit their personal style,” says jewellery designer Eina Alhuwalia. Agrees stylist Sanam Ratansi, “A UK based website will use terms that people will understand in their country. So it’s not a big deal. Also, Kali is a riveting representation of the feminine force of Shakti. What’s the big deal if or Katy Perry posted Kali’s picture to express anger?.”

First Published: Apr 27, 2017 19:20 IST

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