I Love Lamp: Cultural Appropriation In Design

When I saw that dream catchers were being featured on Design*Sponge today I cringed because I'm frankly really sick of seeing the shallow appropriation all things "ethnic" and/or "native" in design. Variations of different Native American imagery seem to be taking lots of abuse right now, Navajo patterns in particular, and stuff like children's teepess just make me a little uncomfortable.

So I was really happy that see that Amy of Design*Sponge included this in her post as well:

Note: I do think it’s always important to consider cultural appropriation when looking at objects that originate from other cultures. Jezebel had a great article on cultural appropriation here that explains why dream catchers are not very problematic but describe what items are. It’s an interesting read.

An interesting read indeed. I remember coming across this when it was first posted in the wake of lots of high profile fashion folks making heinously cringe worthy decisions like putting their mostly naked models in traditionally sacred headdresses.

And while I don't think this article fully explains exactly when it's ok, that's because there's not just one answer to this question. The line between celebrating/admiring and plain old appropriating is an inherently blurry one. I keep thinking about the whole "I know it when I see it approach" and how that kind of applies here but is unfortunately just as unhelpful in defining offensive cultural appropriation as it was in defining obscenity.

This all makes me think about how chock full my house is of stuff that I've picked up around the globe and I have to ask myself, is any of it appropriation? All that Malian fabric I've made pillows and dresses and other things out of, is that ok because it's not sacred in any way?

What about the Moroccan rugs that can be used as prayer rugs but are just used as decor? Is that ok because they're not by definition religious objects?

That would mean I can never display this Tibetan prayer wheel I picked up in western China at a point in my life when I was very seriously considering Buddhism since it is most definitely sacred and I don't use it as such, right?

Funnily enough I haven't had that out in years exactly because it makes me uncomfortable. However I never cringe when I go to my atheist parents' house and pass by their beautiful, creepy, and perhaps totally inappropriate Stations of the Cross paintings. Is that because Christianity doesn't feel so much like "the other"?

Something else I admire aesthetically but have felt hesitant displaying is Steven's and my collection of Chinese comics that depict how to paint Communist propaganda. Cool, but just not cool if you know what I mean.

This all makes me think about the Egyptian craze of the 1920s. People went absolutely bonkers for "Egyptian" fashion/art/style after King Tut's tomb was excavated. Would that fly today? Part of me thinks no, people would definitely NOT be cool with digging up that guy's grave then appropriating the hell out of his religious imagery, symbols, and objects. Then the other part of me thinks it would be all together reasonable to imagine that people's Pinterest boards would be blowing up with "Nile River" this and "Scarab" that. Would it matter? To whom?

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