Monday, 8 September 2014

Cultural appropriation

This weekend I decided I would draw the Hindu deity known as Ganesha. It was just something I remember reading about long time ago and I’ve been wanting to draw for ages. I posted the sketch on Facebook and the thread lit up. The main topic of debate was cultural appropriation – if I were to commit that drawing towards an item of clothing, would I offend Hindu people by doing so?

Opinion was divided, including among those who declared themselves as Hindu. Some cautioned me about the issue, stating that they knew of people who were sick of non-Hindu uses of their Holy icons. Others welcomed my depiction.
Reading around on the topic further – for example this essay – the issue is cause for concern among those who feel that their carefully nurtured culture and history is being eroded and ‘cheapened’ by those outside of it. And yet on the other hand, there are those who argue that we live in a melting pot society and the proliferation of new ideas, icons, imagery and themes from other sources can help to keep the traditions alive and introduce them to a whole new audience - for example as expressed in this opinion piece.

Most artists and illustrators I believe are sensitive to these issues. We research our subjects with care and try to learn as much around the topic before committing to artworks. In my case, I guess one could easily point at many instances of cultural appropriation. For example Irish leprechaun, Hanuman, Buddha monkey, Haida shark:

Final thoughts
I personally feel that for an artist, depicting images from other cultures shouldn’t be off-limits. I also feel that an artist applying their own interpretation on traditional themes is fine. But with research and reading around the subject, it is also important not to do something deliberately disrespectful and inflammatory. For example, it is common knowledge that drawing the prophet Muhammad in any form is offensive to Islamic tradition. Similarly, applying Hindu symbols and art onto shoes and footwear is extremely offensive.

I don’t know if any product line will develop from my drawings of Hindu deities. If I do make something, I hope the majority will recognize that I do so in honour of the rich cultural heritage and a route to reach out to a wider audience who perhaps may be inspired to learn more about other cultures.


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