A common refrain in discussions around cultural translations is one of appreciation without appropriation, which marks the right for a culture to speak for itself rather than be spoken for by others. The distinction makes space for complicated realities against simple-minded and fear-based stereotypes.
As another Hallowe’en passes, the discussion about cultural appropriation plays out through the politics of costume. On the one hand, the dress-up can be read as satire and charges of insensitivity are the product of political correctness run amuck. On the other hand, these often slutty caricatures have historical and cultural references that are rooted in ignorance, racism and violence, and to not acknowledge this patronage perpetuates it. Intention surely must matter, but it cannot alone measure the harm or innocence of an action.
In a globalized world, cultural appropriations or translations are inevitable and we all partake of them. As artists, we are nothing without the world–people and places–to conjure our imagination, to reference, to speak to and through us. Identity is so much these translations from who we are into what we hope to become. And this might point to an ethical line: to perform another without consent is appropriation. To perform oneself as an uncertain evolution is not necessarily appreciation, but at least it intimately connects an identity to the world. It inserts responsibility and evokes the need to be mindful of one’s environment. The appreciation comes from building a substantial relationship between oneself and what we forage, to be intimately vulnerable to the fate of what sustains us.