May 4th was the annual MET gala fundraiser, hosted by Anna Wintour, which raises money for the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. This year's theme for the event was "China; Through the Looking Glass" which turned this -let's be honest- celebrity fashion show into what seemed like a stereotypical “asian" themed costume party. The celebrities were out in droves wearing all kinds of couture ensembles from chopstick hair pieces (which, in Chinese culture, represents death in the family) to opium dresses - classy.
Not only are these Manhattan socialites making a mockery of the culture themselves, but they are doing it unknowingly. This is the problem: ignorance. I am not the type that berates someone for wearing the traditional garment of a culture they are not a part of. However, I do think that there should be a purpose to the choices you make, and you should know what those choices represent. Someone who chooses to wear a kimono because they love Japanese culture and want to showcase the tradition is one thing. Someone who wears a Chinese inspired hair-piece made by an Irish couture designer to an event specifically about Chinese culture for publicity is another thing entirely. There's a great quote that illustrates this point by indigenous fashion researcher and blogger where she explains that, "the best way to honour a culture is by working with designers from that culture. Buy from them - or if you're inclined to make your own look, collaborate with them."
Unfortunately, this issue goes so much deeper than dragon embroidered clutches and sushi shoes. Cultural appropriation is a serious issue in North America and is constantly perpetuated through mass-absorbed media such as film and television. Just last week, I read an article about how Scarlett Johanson has been cast in the live action remake of the overtly popular Japanese manga, Ghost in the Shell. Ethnic characters rarely get the chance to be represented fairly in North American film.A good example of this was the 2005 film Memoirs of Geisha. The movie is based entirely on Japan and its traditions. Yet, a majority of the main cast was not even Japanese. The problem isn’t that they casted Chinese actors, but that the importance of getting big names to sell movies was prioritized over placing significance in the representation of a nation.
This issue leaks into so many things, art being a major one. That being said i do urge everyone to think carefully about what you choose to project as well as what to consume. I’m not perfect and I'm sure I've had my slip ups in the past, but I can say that as an artist, I make a conscious effort to think about what I put out into the world and the possible impact it has.