It’s called cultural appropriation, and with appropriation, all we have is intent. To evoke the artistic traditions and tropes of another culture in the pursuit of making a statement has been done for decades. To me, I don’t see racism. I see an array of art pieces. It doesn’t matter what race the models are. It shouldn’t matter. Sure Vogue Italia has been doing this a lot, but a fashion magazine styling a photoshoot is about as racially charged as Joseph Kosuth’s One & Three Chairs. Cultural appropriation for art’s sake, for fashion’s sake, is not racist unless the intent is. The intent for Meisel’s shoot here? I’m willing to guess that both he and the editor of Vogue Italia in charge of this section, intended this to be a kind of study of typical tribal tropes via the organized and very purposefully styled ensembles from a variety of different designers.
People discussing how it should be a woman of color in these photoshoots are ridiculous. By saying any particular person cannot appropriate another culture simply because of their skin color (in this case, white), you are still ascribing cultural limitations based solely on skin color, which is what racists did with civil rights back in the day.
True art as a creation sourced from innocent human spirit and summations of past experience tends to exist above the ridiculous squabbles of race, sexuality, and any other flavor of discrimination.
Now, if the intention of this piece was to be racist, that makes it racist and I am wrong. But I don’t think they are trying to be racist, and they keep doing it, and people keep misunderstanding it. Raise your consciousness.
Oohhhhhh… so racists during the civil rights movement “ascribed cultural limitations based soley on skin color”???? That’s what they were doing?
See, here this whole time I thought racists during the Civil Rights Movement used high pressure water hoses and sent dogs to attack children..and lynched, murdered, mutilated, and raped Black people and bombed their homes and killed all their leaders in order to maintain separate, unequal living conditions and keep Black people as 2nd class citizens.
But now you have totally cleared that whole historical time for me and you’ve totally cleared up what cultural appropriation is with this great equivalency. Yes, what happened during the Civil Rights Movement is comparable to “an artist” who culturally appropriates. The artist is such a victim!
Art is never created in a vacuum. I give you that. It’s impossible to culturally appropriate something without bringing along context which some imagery might either explicitly or implicitly hold. But the intent of the work is not to evoke the discriminatory nature of such context. If nothing else, it’s a celebration of that culture. Sure, it might seem as if fashion is trivializing classical tribal African tropes into trends, but that is only the case if you find fashion trivial. I don’t. Fashion is another medium within art, and to me, art is never trivial.
Also, the PRINCIPLE of discrimination at large is the same on either sides. If I came across as equalizing the struggle of appropriation artists to the civil rights movement, that was not my aim and I apologize. I merely meant to show that the application of limitations regardless of context based upon race, gender, sexuality, etc is often a double standard. By limiting someone based upon those innate characteristics, it’s the same principle.
I’m a gay man and I have been “othered” many a time in my life because of my sexuality, and I will be “othered” many more times in my life. I can either choose to be offended and outraged, or choose to instead enact conversations. For example, if someone appropriated gay identity - a culture which has been oppressed historically via executions, witch hunts, and withholding the ability to marry - in art, and no one involved was gay, my automatic response wouldn’t be to yell “HOMOPHOBIA!”
My automatic response would be to question the intent of the artist, because I don’t want to walk through life constantly believing the mere mention of my identity was in a manner meant to be offensive, call me a secular Humanist.
However, that heightened sensitivity is not the culture in question’s fault. That sensitivity rises out of repeated offensive actions, but that no longer is the case across the board. Yes, it still happens, but let’s just not generalize an entire medium! Artists are creating art that is dealing with difference more often as a result of globalization, and dealing with difference doesn’t always have to be negative anymore.
Furthermore, art is reacting to a postmodern society where acknowledging and celebrating difference even on white cisgendered female models enacting classical African tribal tropes isn’t automatically racist and in this case it’s an elevation of the traditions of a culture into the realm of high fashion. Can’t we create art about each other without shouting misrepresentation and hate? It’s a part of an ever-evolving, culture-spanning lexicon in a globalized society.