Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?
Coming up to the launch of our summer collection, I AM DURGA --- inspired by a Hindi Warrior Goddess, a storm of outrage was blowing in from the West over an American girl wearing a qipao to her high school prom.
On one hand, a Chinese American guy commented that she was appropriating his culture, and that she should not have worn this classic Chinese dress simply because she found it beautiful.
On the other side, commentators questioned whether this Chinese American boy only dressed in traditional Chinese clothing himself. It was assumed that he generally wore T-shirts, jeans, and other normal American dress; which begged the question of whether he was similarly committing what he deemed to be "cultural appropriation."
When this debate is applied to such a multi-cultural nation such as Singapore, the results are quite different. As the country has been built on appreciating and welcoming other cultures, particularly Chinese, Indian and Malay - there is much cultural fusion at the heart of the culture here.
We were kindly asked by The Straits Times, to comment on this issue, as our upcoming collection was on the brink of being unveiled. Our opinion was that cultural appreciation, which includes wearing and exploring fashion that is not of your own culture, is a beautiful and positive thing for all parties involved.
To read the article by The Straits Times on Singapore's view of cultural appropriation, please click here.
For myself, being ethnically half Chinese and German, yet born in Canada, and having spent my adult life in Singapore -- cultural mixing, and racial mixing is actually at the core of who I am. I don't believe that just because my DNA says one thing, that I have to force myself to dress according to that however. I also note that often the people who complain about cultural appropriation, are not following their own strict rules on how people should be dressing, or what they are allowed to be inspired by.
So, in my view - go enjoy Korean BBQ which is run by Chinese in America! Or get the whole family a set of Mickey Mouse outfits for your inaugural trip to Hong Kong's Disney Land! If its done with appreciation, its a cultural compliment!
Image by Nash Rizal for Lisa Von Tang ©