Tuesday, 18 June 2019

more double plus ungood


A fun Instagram hashtag to follow, while they can still get away with it! 
#africankimono

I posted this link a few days ago but if you didn’t read it and are interested in how “cultural appropriation” could be deemed in the naming of a sewing pattern I urge you to read Joanna Blakleys Tedtalk youtube video where she talks about the lack of protections within the fashion industry for designers. 


Her talk more broadly discusses how fashion doesn’t have the same sort of protections that are often given in other fields of the arts, like Visual Art and Music. It is clear with music and representational art that sometimes forms are “appropriated” by individuals or businesses and this is recognised and does bring deserved censure. In recent decades some European countries have been able to protect the use of words like "Champagne" and "Dorset Blue Cheese" for foodstuffs, but these are special niche protections specific to produce of the geographical areas where they were developed.

Regrettably there is often virtually nothing the offended cultures can do to protect words or imagery that they feel is owned by them, as in the case with the embroideries that were used in the clothing collection for Carolina Herrera. Some things can be registered to individuals and businesses for a limited period of time (Ugg Boots!), usually 70-90 years but after that they become public domain. Copyright can only be owned by companies or individuals not cultures.  

Two or three years ago there was a lot of controversy about the fabric designer Tula Pink using American Indian images as prints in her fabric collection. When I looked at what she was making at the time I agreed that the images seemed wrongly appropriated, especially the ones of young females wearing feathered war bonnets. I just searched her fabric range now on the internet to see if I could show an example here, but I can’t find any of the prints that were criticised back then. Perhaps she has removed them? However, during the fierce internet debate that went on over weeks I was amazed that about 80% of the contributors thought it was fine for her to use these images and didn’t seem to understand what constituted the definition of “cultural appropriation”. At some point after the debate started Ms Pink claimed she had native American ancestry which may have given her some entitlement.

Sometimes things like brands, trade names and symbols can get legal protection under copyright law, in the same way as I pointed out with the Ugg Boots situation. However, in the case of non Japanese people using the generic description “kimono” there is no case for legal protection of the word. Even when it gets applied to an item of apparel that Japanese wouldn’t generally regard as a kimono, for example if it is used to describe a jacket length robe rather than a full length coat, this may seem irritating, amusing or even insulting to Japanese but it doesn’t constitute any sort of behaviour that can be corrected.


Above is a picture of a genuine Japanese silk  kimono I own. I bought it about 4 years ago from a lady who imports used kimonos from Japan to resell in Australia. She buys bales of second hand kimonos by weight (not item) to import to Australia. She also gets obi, haori, pieces of boro and all sorts of other traditional garments. Surely this suggests Japanese don't regard their old kimonos as any more precious than the old used clothes westerners donate to charity shops?

It is a misapprehension, a misunderstanding of what appropriation is to say kimono should not be used by non Japanese in the name of a sewing pattern.

In their email to me the CSC said:
We are not trying to police how you, or any other designers, name patterns, but as we're not part of the culture those terms are borrowing from, we happily bow to the expertise of people from those cultures, when they express concern over the use of those terms.

I don't know how I can see it in any other way than I am being policed when the CSC say they won't allow any sewing pattern with the name kimono to be shown or discussed in their groups because it's become a concern to Japanese....?

And the second sentence doesn’t make sense to me either - why are they prepared to accept Ms Itos "expertise" about using the word kimono is representative of what the majority of Japanese people think? She was born in America so is American for a start. If I said it was hurtful to me that someone called a skirt pattern a “kilt” would it be accepted I represented the views of Scots people because I have Scots ancestry? I think it would be quite right if some people suggested I had identity issues if I went around making claims like that!

In Emi Itos PomPom interview she also referred to this powerful statement by Ijeoma Oluo. Ito actually refers to it as a definition but I think that’s too subjective.

“So that brings us to what it is that makes cultural appropriation, appropriation. It really is systems of power. We live in a society where dominant cultures have been able to come and take what they want from oppressed cultures and use it however they want, change it, and then discard the rest, even degrade the rest that they don’t like, that doesn’t suit them in the way that they want to use… And they will take what they want for their own purpose. They will then say, “That’s what this is. It’s what it has always been.” And they will further remove it from the culture that developed it and depends on it. They may even profit off of it while the people who developed this piece of culture themselves are still being degraded and oppressed and sometimes mocked for those very same things.”

I think this statement is too extreme to suggest this is what is really happening to Japanese culture and that stopping non-Japanese from using kimono will somehow prevent the degradation, oppression and mockery of Japan.

I always think of Japanese culture as being incredibly strong and not under any threat at all. I’m trying to understand why Emily Ito would suggest Japan is facing such a dramatic and awful attack from “dominant cultures”. She does strongly identify with the American BIPOC community – Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. It disturbs me that Ms Ito feels so alienated from being an American that she feels her life experience is more on a parallel to those of black and indigenous Americans. 


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