At long last, the music festivals season is finally here or, put another way, the season of selfie festivals that happen to have music has kicked off with the start of Coachella 2017.
For all those selfies to get the most likes and boost that self-esteem, the Instagram babes put together the boldest and barest outfits. Bindis, dashikis, war paint and Native American headdresses are just some of the items festival attendees opt for.
Nevertheless, the choice of these styles is not as predictable and clichéd as the inevitable accusations of cultural appropriation that come along every year.
Most of the times the debate about the culturally appropriated looks that crop up at music festivals get more social media and mass-media coverage than the event itself. Celebrities, music festgoers and designers usually come under fire for donning jewellery, garments, costumes and decorations which are inspired from someone else’s culture.
Critics bring charges of cultural degradation as they claim that appropriators steal their cultural identity and profane their sacred practices. I take the stand of cultural appreciation since getting inspiration from the artefacts, treasures and practices of other cultures that differ from their own is a proof of admiration and appreciation.
As Bruce H. Ziff and Pratima V. Rao put it in Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation, because “appropriation connotes some form of taking, it contemplates a relationship between persons and groups.” Therefore, if thinking about cultural appropriation in this way, it not only encourages communication and social interactions amongst the members of different cultures but also favours the vivid exchange of literary and intellectual properties.
The decision to wear a headdress at a festival involves at least searching for some basic information about the origin and importance of the object. And if that doesn’t happen, as music fest crowds grow in diversity, on the scene an enthusiast will be more than eager to elaborate on the Native American culture. Pepsi can’t solve all the world’s problems, but being more open and understanding is a huge step forward in our pursuit of cultural unity and peace.
The problem with cultural appropriation critique is that it usually implies the binary of “the first world” and “the third world” concepts. In her article for The Atlantic, Fashion’s Cultural-Appropriation Debate: Pointless, Minh-Ha T. Pham claims that the discussion around cultural appropriation in fashion “proceeds as if there are only two places in the world: “Western capitalist institution” and “slum”.” All the fuss over what people decide to wear at festivals is just another issue that exacerbates the racial divide, the labelling problem and global inequality.
Today I (a Moldavian) ate a croissant (French) for breakfast wearing denim jeans (American) and listening to AnnenMayKantereit (German) and nobody would ever call it cultural appropriation. However, if I place a bindi on my forehead or show up wearing cornrows, someone will go berserk and get me a lifetime United Airlines subscription.
While I do understand the symbolism of these cultural practices, I like how I look when I wear my hair braided that way or when I have that red bindi drawn on my forehead just as I enjoy the taste of that croissant. Moreover, I think that festival attendees who choose to get inspiration from other cultures embrace cultural diversity, contribute to the valorisation of cultural artefacts and reduce the risk of them being forgotten.
Culture evolves and so do all the symbols that define that culture. One must be proud that somebody found an aspect of their culture beautiful and worth wearing. We should start accepting and celebrating cross-cultural friendship which is able to transcend religion and class.
Then again, before putting on those statement pieces, getting informed about their history, cultural meaning and significance doubles the chances of that look to be regarded as cultural appreciation rather than appropriation. It’s cool to appreciate and honour a cultural practice and artefact but only if its origins are not ignored and trivialized.
- Daniela Mihailuta