10 October 2010

Thinking again about appropriation

I feel sort of guilty that I haven't been posting lately - I haven't been doing much writing at all other than for work or some of the websites I've been working on. This is a practice run at doing some writing that is more thoughtful than most of what I've been writing lately - the thoughtful part is at the end, the rest is setting the scene...

The latest website to be finished (if a website is EVER finished) is Beelandia.com, Abelisto's website. There's at least three more websites in the works, mostly waiting on people to decide if they like them or not... only one of them is a paying job though.

I hennaed my hair last week (or actually, Abelisto did) using body-art quality henna. I mixed it up using lemon juice instead of water, per the instructions that came with it. It was much, much easier to wash out than the other henna. It did stain my forehead and ears a bit, but that faded in a couple days. Next time I'll have to be more careful about cleaning it off my skin.

The henna turned my hair a bit carroty-orange at first. The instructions said not to panic, but instead to give it a few days and see how it darkened. Wow. Now it is a really rich auburn. The gray hairs, which usually are quite coppery with henna I've previously used, are very mellow and not at all what I expected after I first washed out this henna. All-in-all a vast improvement.

I'm thinking about doing henna tattoos. I've had them done on my hands before - at arts & crafts festivals. I like the way they look, and the graceful way they fade out (I love my permanent tattoo too - just so you know).

Here's the thing... I love the look of the traditional henna tattoos, but I don't want to do traditional ones on people. Or I should say, I don't want to do the traditional ones unless it is part of the person's heritage/culture.

I cannot help but think of it as an appropriation, the exoticization of a culture that has always made me a bit uneasy.  Okay, here's the issue, when I think about the idea of inspiration and the artist’s practice it seems to me that there can be sort of a reverse colonization that often happens – a backdraft of appropriation of styles and artforms, which often ends up getting rolled up into the outsider's identity – a disrespectful fascination with a culture that leads to exoticizing the “other,” trivializing and reducing individuals within those cultures to caricatures (google "Native American Princess art images" and you'll see what I mean... how many of those paintings, sculptures, drawings were done by white housewife artists? Harsh, I know, but I cannot help it).

We assume we are welcome within groups just because we like them, because we want to be like them, wear clothes like them, talk like them or eat their food...

How often is respect for the material or nonmaterial objects of a culture – often manifested as a lust to own them – mistaken by those lusting for the object as a respect for the creators of the objects? Our engineered identities are made up from so many influences, so many “I love that!” feelings, that for the most part, it seems to me that authenticity may be a chimera.

It's not exactly rational, I know. It's not like henna tattoos are part of my own culture. However, there is some historical evidence that some sort of tattooing was part of a great many ancient and not-so-ancient cultures - including most if not all of the European mishmash that I descend from. And I do think that the desire to embellish our bodies in some way is a part of every culture. 

So what it comes down to is that I'd love to do the henna tattoos with designs of my own making.

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