09 September 2008

American Apparel Reports: Out of Afrika

Thanks, American Apparel for giving me a perfect example of cultural appropriation. I know a lot of us have felt good spending money at American Apparel because all of the clothes are made in the U.S. But how do we feel about these images?


whitney said...

are you serious this is slightly ridicoulus....i mean come on. this is not ethnic...dear lord

Marty Coleman said...

So what if it is appropriated imagery that is translated into a fabric print. I don't get why you, or anyone, would expect a designer, American or otherwise, to not use imagery and patterns from all over the world if they think they are beautiful, compelling, interesting and perhaps might sell. If I am from Oklahoma is it ok for me to use an idea and image that came out of Atlanta? Isn't that appropriating?

cem said...

To both Whitney and Marty Coleman...

First of all, this is ethnic. Just type something like "african clothing", "african textile" or "african traditional clothing" into Google image search and you'll see that there will be many pictures of Africans with African textile with very similar ethnic designs and prints such as the American Apparel "Afrika" line.

Here are some examples.

Nigeria: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/155/346486823_c00134d630.jpg?v=0
Uganda: http://media.canada.com/b022d713-b6c1-4e60-9e30-86fa9d3dd7f8/watoto1.jpg
Burkina Faso: http://bp3.blogger.com/_dukwWyD6DGY/SCIQ3XRqTXI/AAAAAAAAAfY/Ol5E8frmhV8/s1600-h/IMG_2052.JPG
South Africa: http://hotels.lonelyplanet.com/LPImages/Region/455_Johannesburg_BN1531_6.jpg

So since these images actually show African culture...and since the images are deriving from a certain group, with cultural, racial traditions...that is why it is ethnic.

Marty...I think you have misconceived what cultural appropriation is. The problem with AA's prints are that when they produce clothing with such designs, they are disrespecting something that has an original cultural significance somewhere in Africa. Africans wear these clothing which show and preserve cultural traditions, but when a company like AA mass produces clothing in this style as the "hip" clothing of today, that is just disrespectful, and takes away a cultural significance. Not all appropriating is bad. You using an idea or image from Atlanta is not the same thing as U.S.A. using an idea from Africa in this way. There is the fact that racism against Africans has been a major issue in the U.S.A. for a very long time.

There is also the talk about how there is not one African/African-American model in the ad's for the "Afrika" line.
But then again, if they do use African/African-American models for this line, then people could also start saying that is racist.

Marty Coleman said...

A certain culture doesn't have exclusive rights to its visual imagery or its art. Individuals have copyrights on their unique creations but the general culture does not.

A great example would be tattoos, piercings and branding. They all started out as not only 'ethnic' meaning they were from a particular culture in a particular time, but they were also religious and/or sacred.

Those styles for the body are now common throughout the world. I am sure someone in one of the original cultures that had those styles deem any use of them outside as being disrespectful.

What they forget is that culture is a fluid, dynamic thing. It isn't a commodity like gold or copper that can be kept out of the market if the powers that be want it to be so.

The visual world is there for all to see and if someone likes a pattern, an image, a certain use of color I don't see it as disrespectful to appropriate the general ideas and incorporate them into artists or designers own work.

Another question might be, do you argue as strongly against other cultures taking a US style or image and appropriating it. Examples might include hip hop style, the American flag, country and western clothing and music. Do designers in Bengal or Nigeria have the right to take 'American' culture and appropriate it for their own uses?

I say they do and more power to them. Go for it, have fun, let's see what you can come up with. I see no reason why an African wouldn't have the same response to an American or Bolivian taking some root idea and running with it.


Anonymous said...

marty it has to do with power and colonialism and critical race theory get a clue

Marty Coleman said...

Those elements are intertwined in cultural transference, but the fact that those historical elements exist does not delegitimize the creative freedom that people have to move forward with visual ideas. Using an visual idea from another culture is not in an of itself racist or sexist. In my opinion the cultural myopia you are promoting actually leads to xenophobia and racism since it tell the culture you are in (and the others as well) that either the other culture is better or worse that yours. That they have a special right to be protected from the creative forces in the world.