A Point of View: When does borrowing from other cultures become 'appropriation'?
2016-03-13 20:16:41 GMT
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"One of my favourite stories of how healthy cultural hybrids happen involves Japan and the West, though not, in this case, the Mikado. You know those beautiful 19th Century Japanese prints, by Hiroshige or Hokusai or their friends, poetically depicting everyday events, or favourite places, all in charming comic book colour, with Mount Fuji often delicately if secretively included in every view (like a kind of sublime Where's Wally). Those delicate black-edged figures and long almost cartoonish faces, those startling juxtapositions of foreground and distance, that informal and haiku-like lyricism - Japanese prints had, as everybody is taught in class, an enormous influence on French Impressionist art in the middle of the 19th Century. They were, exactly, an exotic appropriation."
"Well, it turns out that they weren't really exotic at all. They were the product of the Japanese infatuation with Western perspective drawing and graphics, which had only recently arrived in Japan on ships and boats as part of the Japanese opening to the West. The Japanese artists saw them, and saw expressive possibilities in them that the Western artists were too habituated to the system to notice. The Japanese appropriated Western perspective in ways that Westerners would never have imagined. Then the Japanese pictures got sent back to Europe, where they looked wonderfully exotic, and re-made the Western art they originally hailed from. It's exactly the same process that happened in our own lifetime when Howlin' Wolf and Big Bill Broonzy records sailed over to Liverpool and the suburbs of London and were heard by boys who barely understood their context but loved their attitude. Ten years later you got Mick Jagger and John Lennon. Innocent imitation is always the engine of cultural innovation."
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