What is cultural appropriation and why is it unethical

2 cultural appropriation cases sparked controversy in Mexico: Carolina Herrera and Louis Vuitton

What is cultural appropriation and why is it unethical
Carolina Herrera and Louis Vuitton used Tenangos without Mexican artisan's permission - Photo: Left: Courtesy of VOGUE.COM/Right: Taken from Louis Vuitton's website
English 21/08/2019 15:34 EL UNIVERSAL in English/Sofía Danis & Gretel Morales Mexico City Actualizada 16:19

In recent months, Mexican artisans and authorities have accused international brands such as Carolina Herrera and Louis Vuitton of plagiarism and cultural appropriation. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has been affecting indigenous communities in Mexico for some time but it seems to have worsened in recent years.

But what is cultural appropriation? According to the Oxford Dictionary, cultural appropriation is “a term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Los tenangos son algo más que solo costuras bonitas... #clasesdecostura #tenangos #hidalgomexico

A post shared by Gemiaw... (@gemiau) on

In short, cultural appropriation is when a dominant group steals and exploits cultural elements from a marginalized group. It is an unethical practice because it has a negative impact on the communities.

In the case of Mexico, cultural appropriation is worrying for several reasons:

1. Powerful brands are appropriating cultural heritage from Indigenous artisans

2. These brands profit from Mexican artisans' labor while the artisans live in poverty

3. The communities and artisans are not acknowledged

4. Indigenous artisans do not have the same financial resources, tools, public relations, and platforms as international brands; artisans are at a disadvantage.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Bordando andamos

A post shared by Bordados Tenangos, Hidalgo (@artesaniastenangos) on

Carolina Herrera & Louis Vuitton

In recent months, two cases of plagiarism and cultural appropriation sparked controversy and a debate in Mexico and the fashion industry: Carolina Herrera and Louis Vuitton.

Although some people argue and praise these brands for “paying homage” to Mexico and its culture, the truth is that these brands have been using intellectual property that belongs to specific communities in Mexico, without recognizing their culture, traditions, and labor. Moreover, by appropriating embroideries such as Tenangos, Louis Vuitton and Carolina Herrera produce high-end products that sell for thousands of dollars while Mexican artisans live in poverty.

Furthermore, as outsiders, these brands erase all trace of sacredness from these motifs and instead transform them into mere decorative elements. Such elements then lose all meaning at the hands of foreign designers who disregard Indigenous cultures.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cuyo arte es la principal fuente de trabajo e ingresos economicos en el municipio

A post shared by Tenangos (@tenangos_arte) on

Tenangos de Doria

These fantastic and colorful embroideries originated in the Tenango de Doria, and other nearby communities, in the state of Hidalgo.

The embroidery of Tenangos has become a tradition that is inherited from generation to generation. And although most people can embroider, very few artisans draw the fantastic creatures. The majority of the pieces, including tablecloths, table runners, pillows, clothing items, backpacks, and other objects, feature fantastic animals, flowers, plants, and sacred motifs and can take months to complete.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#tenangos #textiles #caminosdemesa #bordados #artesanias #hechoenmexico #hechoamano #sanpablito #bordadootomi

A post shared by Gerardo Laja (@otomi.artesania) on

Copyright in Mexico

Although Mexicans lawmakers are currently working on a bill to protect the artisans' intellectual rights, the majority of artisans are currently unprotected by Mexican law, therefore, recognizing their rights and their intellectual property has become an urgent matter.

Mexican designer Carla Ferández, who collaborates with Mexican artisans, emphasizes the importance of protecting and preserving Mexican art: "preventing the extinction of Mexican craft, [provide] employment, recognize the artisans, make the public understand that it is a cultural heritage of our country and the world -- that technique, and those hands, and those minds who create it."

In contrast, Carla Fernández says that if large brands want to incorporate Mexican embroideries into their clothing and produce them through an industrial process, they should ask for permission and learn “what does that community wants (…) sometimes they don't even ask for money, they want recognition, dissemination.” These type of strategies could pave the way for successful collaborations between brands and artisans

Louis Vuitton and Carolina Herrera have yet to acknowledge their appropriation of Indigenous Mexican cultures and recognize the artisans' work.

EL UNIVERSAL in English reached out to Louis Vuitton but did not receive an answer.

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