Thursday, April 26, 2012

Obsession with Indian culture

I found a comment on My last post so interesting,  and I havent done a research post in a long time since my ermine post here
I decided to make a post out of my response:


I usually love the things you post, but this is just straight up appropriation. Saris mean something to people other than a "costume" to wear for a party. What was the purpose of wearing them? Why take someone's culture and use it as a dress up party? 


Firstly, I would like to thank you for following and enjoying my blog.  I have to wonder though if you really truly have looked at my blog at all, or know what I am about?  I never have and never will claim to be an expert in anything, or exploit cultures.
 I do however, always show my love and devotion to what inspires me.
Appropriation: Appropriation of visual culture, in some form or another, has always been part of human history...Appropriation can be understood as a key component of the way in which humans learn, communicate and progress...Appropriation can be understood as the use of borrowed elements in the creation of a new work . 
More here

In a way, this word is actually a complament to a designer, artist or stylist.  To be completely honest, this party was about designers, stylists, and artists all coming together, some nostalgically(I will explain later).  But to say that it is just a simple costume party and by asking the two questions you did, Im not so sure you meant to say "appropriation" or you may not understand the way
some artists expressing their inspiration 
or how close a culture can be to someone even being an outsider.

Before you judge the motives of the party, I would like to point out a few personal things that you didnt know:

I have been obsessed with Indian culture since my dad went on bussiness trips to Asia. I was always the most excited when he went to India when I was about 10. He brought back the most glorious treasures. My dad lives and breathes other cultures, studied them, and works with them in a way I haven't experienced anyone do in the same way.  In a way my dad is a genious when speaking or integrating with other cultures.  So becasue of my Dad I know a lot more that I even am aware of about cultures because of how he raised me.  I have always wanted to go to India myself, due to lack of funds it has never happened.  That hasnt stoped me diving into the culture.  Everytime I was invited to an Indian party or I went to an indian shop in London or even when eating Indian food or talking with my Indian friends, I was always and still feel emotionally overwhelmed and I gush at their effortlessness in beauty, grace, and human interaction.

My dad in Bejing

My dad in front of the Taj Mahal 

From: Romatearne

One of the my main reasons for having this particular "themed" party was my best friend Morgan was away on her birthday.  She lived in India, and loved it so much, she misses it dearly, especially the people.  She was actually working as a textile weaver/designer in India, so she was able to see their design and textile culture first hand.  

She and I live close to each other and our area is super mixed, with huge pockets of Indian shops restaurants and other culture.  We both got the idea of the barbie cake from one of the children's cake shops with Indian barbies in sari frosting in a shop window in our area.  Our jewelry was bought  from an amazing shop 5 mins walk away.  The Indian favors again were at a market place 5 mins away as well.  The other decorations, my shoes an Sari are from the little India town far away, that we both trekked all the way to and made a full day out of it.

Morgan in Bangalore, India designing for Zenith Exports see the amazing textiles she created here

Kelly-Marie also has stayed in India, and she too shares a deep devotion to Indian culture.  When we were about to have the party she posted this

Palace Kelly-Marie visited in Bouge (Gujarat region) more pictures here

I also want to remind you that everyone who went to this party is either British, or has lived in England for a long time.  Indian culture is celebrated in today's society all over London!   My neighbors are Indian and had a wedding the week before.  We were talking about our parties etc, and they liked the idea of our party.  Also the week before there was an Indian spice market I attended.

Maybe you meant something else, but, clothing always means something, no matter what culture.  I am a fashion designer (I deeply specialize and pride myself in research, culture references and symbolism in all my work), and I would be an uneducated one, if I didn't know about the symbols and colors of dress, or when something is just beautiful to be beautiful, no matter what the culture is.  

Saris can be everyday clothes, from different regions of India, certain religious celebrations, show how old you are, marital status, trendy or not trendy, Bollywood inspired, weddings, and Royal dress, just to name a few. (As in many cultures) 

My Sari was from a bridal shop, it would be for a guest who would attend a wedding.  My jewelry and heavy makeup (not my exact makeup of course, but "heavy" makeup) would be for a celebration, probably of a god.  And since my hair is red and curly,  I took those two elements and wore them as a preraphaelite would (art nouveau and arts & crafts movements took a lot from Indian culture and others...)

From fashion era, a little antidote on Indian dress in liberty clothing here

As you can see, its all about reference upon reference upon reference.  Kelly-Marie and I have talked before about how people can view us:  They see a silly white person with tones of offensive invalid ideas and references exploding all over at first, but in a couple of years people will see a relevant valid and non-ofencive fashion trend or design, that is relevant in societies all around the world.

We were reverently celebrating saris and indian culture by keeping it as something special in a special gathering.  Others in the media are almost grotesquely trying to make Saris mainstream in the everyday woman's closet, which I find both oddly negative and positively interesting at the same time. 
You can read about this here, here and here

Oprah Winfrey drapes a sari!<br>

Someone said to me that even though this party is themed, and it is about a culture that is not my own, it still was very me, especially aesthetically.  They said that this party was similar to what I do with fashion or vintage in my outfits and collections. When they said this, I have to say it mean a lot, because if someone else sees what I do that way I have successfully integrated something otherwise outside of myself into my aesthetic.  

You can get an accurate and immediate visual of my aesthetic here

Nicole Eymard-1441

I always say:
 "Love something, but only share with others when you make is your own, share how it speaks to you, not just an exact replica."

I do not see anything wrong with celebrating a culture and making it your own, whether its just visually or any other way...

What does everyone think?


Kerry Lockwood said...

Beautifully and eloquently written Nicole. I'm not going to voice my frustrations, suffice to say it is incredible offensive that someone would presume we were anything but completely amored by the Indian culture. Over-sensitivity and 'taboo cultures' are just such fine lines to navigate now (remember that story I told you on the night about my shopping experience!)
We weren't doing anyone any harm, we were enjoying a beautiful, decadent culture in our way. I had a wonderful night, as I know all the other ladies did too. Thank you for being such a wonderful, imaginative hostess. x

Nicole Eymard said...

Awww that means so much Kerry!

Harriett Henderson said...

Honestly I couldn't have said it better myself. This was a wonderful, well informed and brilliantly written reply. I so wish I could have been with you to celebrate this culture together

Nicole Eymard said...

I wish you were there too :(  at least I was able to speak with you on the phone ;)


Brilliant post. I am with you 200%.

Maria W said...

This is my first time commenting, in the I-don't-even-know-how-long I've been following your blog, but this is so interesting. I wasn't surprised you recieved a comment like that, it's a very academic argument. I don't know if that really means anything, but thats how I decribe things I hear over and over again in school...and if I have heard them I'm sure lots of people have. I'm studying socio-cultural anthropology at school right now, and I constantly hear debates like this.

But I have always been divided when it comes to the idea of reappropriation..this other blog that  I also love and read wrote this article on "the context of things" got me thinking about it a lot lately: 

So basically, I think the counter-argument to images being reappropriated is this idea that we are moving away from the "true" context of things. The thing is though, I question whether something like a "true context" even exists. Like your quote stated, I think appropriation has always been a part of human history. I think reappropriation has even taken place in the formation of cultures...for example Japanese tempura: (I know this isn't an appropriate source, but I have read about this in a book I took out from the library for a paper once).

"Tempura was introduced to Japan in the mid-sixteenth century by Portuguese[5] Jesuits,[6] during the same period that panko and such dishes as tonkatsu were also introduced from Portugal.

This example shows a kind of reappropriation, when you think about it...especially when we consider tempura as being "authentic" to Japanese cuisine. Over time, tempura (which was introduced by what we may consider a completely different culture) was made to be "Japan's own" (that may have been cheesey way to put it)

When I read the comment, I kind of knew where it was coming from...I think there definitely has to be a line drawn because I think context is just as important (even though I'm unsure of there being a true context, I don't want to completely dismiss the idea!). But I don't really know where this line needs to be drawn...

All I can say is, I don't consider reappropriation to be necessarily a bad thing. And  I think it's just as wrong to assume, that a person is not educated or that their intentions are terrible just because they choose to "reappropriate an image" in a certain way. I feel like that's what the commenter was implicitly assuming of you even though they probably did not mean it. But at the same time, it was a good comment. It was productive in the sense that it allowed conversations like this to happen.

This is soo long I'm sorry!

Nicole Eymard said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this.  And thank you for being a faithful follower :)  Thank you for sharing the Tempura history, it is really interesting.  I really agree with your full comment.  I too actually think the comment was a good comment as well since we did get to talk about this.  its just too bad that the person had to assume things, and also agree with what you said here: 
 I think it's just as wrong to assume, that a person is not educated or that their intentions are terrible just because they choose to "reappropriate an image" in a certain way.

Nicole Eymard said...

Thank you :)

Christina Catherine Martinez said...


I love that you took the time to so fully address the commenters criticisms, which I found problematic in that they seemed to indicate a direct connection between "appropriation" and "exploitation" which simply doesn't exist. On an emotional / reactionary level, I get where they're coming from - it's the wince I make when I see blond-haired blue-eyed girls traipsing around Coachella in traditional Mexican dresses, but I also understand that appropriation is a part of mainstream culture now, there's no real reason to be offended, and there's especially no reason to be offended on behalf of a culture to which you don't belong.

Mary Van Note said...

I'm glad Maria brought up the Tempura history.  I always think of that when I hear people criticizing cultural appropriation.  So many great foods wouldn't exist without it!  And I'm only talking about foods because the foods I happen to love are a cultural mishmash like sushi and French/Vietnamese fusion.  I like that you bolded "progress" because there is that potential with an open mind, free trade of ideas/culture, etc.  It might be a hot-button topic now too because of the internet.  It's so easy now to research and borrow ideas/aesthetics from other cultures, and people are afraid of losing their heritage to Westernization.  It's a very interesting and obviously very current and relevant debate and I'm glad you wrote this post! 

Lousylily said...

Nicole's style is all about appropriation. She is constantly appropriating her own western culture  from which something new and exciting emerges.  It is naive to think that in 2012 there is such thing as a homogenous, static "pure" culture that has yet to be appropriated. ALL culture, including those from India, have appropriated in varies ways to arrive at the here and now. This is especially obvious in our modern times of globalization and  imperialism.  Her party was not the spectacle you claim it to be. I do agree that there are colonial implications from someone who is white wear something that is non-white, but cultures often appropriate in reciprocal terms. Do not be so ethnocentric. Did I mention that I really dislike the obsession with political correctness?

Shannon Richter said...

morgan! my little lamb-chop.

girl. you do what you want. 
always do what feels right in your heart. 

Karina Tiwana said...

I am first generation American-Punjabi "half-breed".  My mama is a "white lady" and my father was born a Sikh in Punjab, India.  I grew-up with the culture and the food and the clothes of India.  I have always woven elements of the culture, especially the fashion and the food, in to my daily life. I am lucky to have an assortment of both traditional and modern Indian fashion in my wardrobe.  I do not, however, favor "themed" parties as I see this as a sort-of Halloween-like and would rather that people embrace this fashion in their own way by including elements that make the m feel a part of the culture while sharing some of what is wholly their own.  Saris do not lend themselves to this "separates" concept except that I can see myself wearing just the "peticoat" or under-blouse of a sari as a blouse that exposes the mid-drift along with a Chuni or a shawl wrap and a pair of jeans and sandals and some fun "costume" Punjabi bangles.   Saris are, to me, formal wear and should be reserved for weddings and other such special occasions but nothing looks as ridiculous as a "white lady" wearing a sari that is not "HER".  She must make it her own.  I would suggest wearing salwar kameez in full or as separates and pairing the top or the bottom with something elegant to make just the right America-India fashion statement.  I love my father's culture and am so grateful to be American and able to choose the manner in which I express myself as a woman through fashion.  Why not have a "multi-cultural" AMERICAN themed party.  I think that's what modern fashion is all about. It's bout the blending and the creative understanding of the underlying pieces that make the expression all about the wearer.  Thanks Alexis--- my Swamp Siren fashion guru
Great blog!

Nicole Eymard said...

People say I look like I am always dressing for Halloween or special occasions everyday, so I guess this is no different.  Not everyone is wearing a Sari.  So all the women who wear saris everyday are dressed up?  Since you are American Im sure everything seems dressy, I am American, and have been teased my whole life by other Americans saying even looking decent was too dressed up.  Im sick of America, and wouldnt ever have an American themed party.  I did mix things in my decor.  Look at my house!  I didnt change my furniture to an Indian decor, the glasses were martini glasses. We drank alcohol, and my friend says no one really drinks alcohol in India unless you have a lot of money etc. whihc means its mixed.  You are telling the "queen of mixing weird things and putting them together"  to mix, honey I have worn a table runner as a scarf!.... 

Nicole Eymard said...


Nicole Eymard said...

Well said, as expected ;)

Nicole Eymard said...

Love you ahha

Galine said...

So well written, you have brought up many good points that have made me think about the way I respond to certain things I see! It's a reminder to ask questions first, and assess the situation later, to avoid making a fool of ones self (Ex: to just assume you're taking advantage of a culture with such a party, when really you're just honouring something you know a lot about/love so much)

Wonderful! Thanks for the post :) Also thanks for posting the link to your beyond brilliant tumblr! Am following now, yay!

Galine said...

 Awesome! I never knew that tempura was taken from the Portuguese! It makes sense though, I always thought "Japan seems so health conscious and this stuff seems so out of place (Although delicious)" haha Thanks for sharing!

Georgia Munn said...

 I'm sorry but you can't 'appropriate' Western culture. Being white is not a culture.

Janiece Pope said...

These fierce politically correct anti-appropriation arguments always forget to tell us one thing: where do we draw the line? Should Nicole not buy and eat Indian food from her local area? 
Should she not be allowed to listen to Ravi Shankar Should she not wear something Indian brought back as a present by her Dad, or by her friend, or given to her by an Indian person? ? what is she wanted to concert to Hindusim - is that acceptable? it is all very well for people so scream 'appropriation', but in practical terms it doesn't work. Nicole has had to write this post justifying herself. Now she has, it should be obvious that her gathering was a tribute to a culture for which she has much love and respect. 

Kelly-Marie said...

Wonderful post Nicole and very well said. One thing I would add is that when I was working in India I was only ever encouraged to wear traditional dress.
 If you also read my post on the Maharini of Jaipur ( Nicole has linked it above) you will see I have mentioned the family of Cooch Behar and have included a picture of Suniti Devi wearing western Edwardian dress. Their family where well known for their love of western culture and for throwing very ' western style' parties. There was so much appropration at that time from both the British and Indian cultures and there still is today. 
I personally feel confident in the fact that none of the people I worked with in India would be offended by us celebrating their culture in this way. I was only ever encouraged to lean and to be inspired by something that they are so very proud of. 

Ana Burgess said...

I think it's beautiful the passion you and your father share about different cultures and I also think it's wonderful you had this party. I see it as a way to celebrate this culture and not offensive at all. I wasn't born in Britain myself but I'm married to an english man and I treasure the culture. I'd feel honoured to see people from other nationalities celebration my culture in such a lovely party as I imagine many Indian people (as your neighbours) were.

I've recently found your blog and I'm really enjoying it! xx

Caroline Rosalie said...

This is a really interesting post, thank you for sharing. It is of course a delicate issue and you have handled it appropriately (by responding and opening up the discussion). Some friends of mine recently had a Japanese themed dinner party and I didn't for a minute consider that it might be deemed offensive either as it came from a place for admiration of Japanese food and culture. 

(Also this is off topic but if you didn't visit Vintage to Vogue when you were in Bath, I highly recommend it, it's one of my favourite shops back home there) 

eline said...

You should read this

It often crosses my mind too that appropriation is almost inevitable, but maybe that idea points to our privilege? Our colonialist history has made it possible for us to take something of another culture and strip it away from all its original meaning without giving a damn but maybe it's time for a change and some critical thinking.

Oni said...

I have been reading your blog for years. I know that you have no ill will or ill intentions when you planned this party. Something about the internet makes people hyper-sensitive. There are worst things going on in the world than an indian themed party. Hell I'd have one too if I were as interested in it as you. I wish people would stop telling others how to live their lives. As far as I see it you have a fun beautiful colorful life. ROCK ON GIRL! 

Crystal Lee said...

I used to wear a full dashiki (pants, top, and cap)  in junior high that my dad brought me back  from a missionary trip to West Africa. I thought it was beautiful, so vivid and unique, and you bet I stood out for not looking like an average teen, but I never cared. I have continued to wear African prints throughout my adulthood, and I can’t imagine someone telling me that I can’t wear an article of clothing because I’m not of African descent. I don’t want my wardrobe to be confined to my ethnicity because my personality is so much bigger than that. I think it’s obvious that you are passionate about other cultures, fashion, and about expressing yourself and all your interests through your clothing, and it’s a shame that you were judged unfairly. 

Brett Chatz said...

Hi there Galine, that's interesting that you say that. I never knew that Tempura was Portuguese either. Thanks for the post - much appreciated by the way ( ) Enjoy good time gaming :)

munroboutique said...

Well, I'm two months late to the party but I just had to say how interesting I've found this discussion! The question of  'appropriate appropriation' has been popping up a lot for me lately. Personally, the world is my textile oyster! As a designer myself, I love sari fabrics, Mexican embroidery, African wax cottons and so much more. My worry is that i don't have quite such a rich culture (at least fabrics wise!) to offer back. Then again, I could always offer up a tartan kilt right?

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Scotch said...

So beautiful and eloquent I am mesmerized with your words. Much Peace and well being to you. Mary


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