Question on propriety - cultural appropriation

Hey guys, question -


The piece Kimby and I did for the Adam White thing -



Someone just wrote me on Tumblr how it's really upsetting them because they see it as cultural appropriation of the Mexican Dia de los Muertos sugar skull design.


I really don't want any of my designs to show cultural insensitivity or to upset people. I'd be really grateful for any ideas or thoughts regarding how much of an issue this is objectively, and should we do something about it, like redo the design without the decorative elements on the skull, leaving it as just a plain skull? Decorate it in a way that doesn't evoke the Day of the Dead?


What do you guys think?

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vectoredlife

Idk about cultural conflicts/issues so this comment doesn't help at all but:

This is a kick-ass design. Love the style and colors

JamesArends

To be honest, I don't see anything wrong with it at all. You've surrounded the skull with beautiful pieces, such as the flowers, bird and butterfly. I don't really see how someone could take offense...Unless it's the snake in the eye socket? Even that though...

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni

thanks :)

I just don't know how seriously people might get offended to see something like this. I've seen artwork with painted skulls before, I have a kickass mod-cloth dress with a more directly represented sugar skull pattern - I never think of these things as disrespectful, more a sort of global sharing and mixing of cultures, like tribal patterns are now a total rage in the fashion industry and they're really everywhere.

On the other hand I know the significance of Dia de los Muertos (we have a similar tradition, although with no painted skulls. But the holiday is very similar in meaning and spirit), and as it is a way to honor one's ancestors it is a sacred thing.

Personally I'm the sort of person who believes we should all share inspiration and I wouldn't have a problem with someone from another culture using inspiration from mine to make art, but I know not everyone feels that way and I really feel bad now for choosing something that is potentially controversial (it just never occurred to me honestly, during the making process).

So I'd love to hear from someone with more ties to Latin American culture on how this seems. I also don't want people to buy it and then be approached on the street or among friends and told that their tee is culturally insensitive.

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
JamesArends said:

To be honest, I don't see anything wrong with it at all. You've surrounded the skull with beautiful pieces, such as the flowers, bird and butterfly. I don't really see how someone could take offense...Unless it's the snake in the eye socket? Even that though...

I think the issue is not so much in what the design shows, but simply that I'm using imagery from a culture I don't belong to and using it as a decoration, which some people might feel diminishes its true cultural significance.

gasponce

I don't think a plain scull would take way from the design on the contrary maybe add by means of a stronger contrast with the other elemments! Maybe just do shadows. But if someone thinks of it as appropriation of something mexican I think Mexican people are the ones most fit to answer your question.

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni

Yeah I'd love to hear some views from people from Latin America in general, I think the holiday is celebrated throughout.

crystalr
crystalr profile pic Staff

Personally, I am not offended by it. I think the design is beautiful. However, I can see how someone who celebrates the tradition every year can be a little upset by the serpent. Sugar skulls are suppose to represent a deceased loved one. Those sugar skulls are usually part of beautiful, elaborate altars to honor them.

Wharton
Wharton profile pic Alumni

I never quite understand the problem with cultural appropriation. I don't get bent out of shape if people draw a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea. Why is it ok for a Mexican to draw this but not a Serbian? What harm does it actually do. We all deal in stereotypes to one degree or another and if it isn't racist or derogatory then what is the issue?

TheInfamousBaka
TheInfamousBaka profile pic Alumni

It's along the same lines of people using Native American headdresses in art, which many find inappropriate. But I figure, if you're inspired by something and it's pretty, why not? But I'm not particularly sensitive about that stuff.

crystalr
crystalr profile pic Staff

I mean. I don't know if you designed it to make it look a sugar skull, but it is very similar

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
crystal said:

Personally, I am not offended by it. I think the design is beautiful. However, I can see how someone who celebrates the tradition every year can be a little upset by the serpent. Sugar skulls are suppose to represent a deceased loved one. Those sugar skulls are usually part of beautiful, elaborate altars to honor them.

Thanks for chiming in! I really wanted to make it beautiful, the meaning was meant to be the beauty and glory of nature, in life and in death. Personally I love serpents and see them as beautiful and powerful too - sort of like real-life dragons. But I can see how someone seeing the skull as the representation of an ancestor might not want a snake in its head.

Chris, Tiff, I'm the same way, but I always worry that this cavalier attitude comes from being a non-minority and thus not facing any particular difficulties in life based on our ethnicity / cultural heritage.

I only got that one comment, not like there was a deluge of complaints. The person was also really polite and measured about it. Made me think really. I just would not want anyone to feel uncomfortable about my art.

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
crystal said:

I mean. I don't know if you designed it to make it look a sugar skull, but it is very similar

I wasn't basing it on sugar skulls directly, like I didn't look up pictures of sugar skulls or anything, but I know they are out there and they were part of the inspiration for the idea. I just wanted to make a beautiful skull surrounded by other beautiful things. But I've learned already that in art the intent of the artist doesn't matter nearly as much as the reaction of the audience.

MissabeeART

First of all, I think it's really good of you to be concerned about this at all, as a lot of people would have just blown off the original commenter, so kudos for that.

Secondly, I agree with gasponce that it might look better (or just as good) without the designs on the skull, and that way you don't have to worry about whether or not you're being culturally insensitive. In all honesty, I think it looks far too realistic/detailed to be a sugar skull, but I'd feel the same reticence as you, as I also wouldn't want to make people uncomfortable, however unintentional.

Overall though, really lovely design. :)

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni

Yeah, it doesn't look directly like a sugar skull nor was it meant to - my actual direct inspiration for decorating the skull was this badass lady's artwork:

They're painted up in traditional Russian folk painting styles, the artist is Sasha Vinogradova.

I'm ok with modifying the design, taking the blue off the skull entirely or modifying it so it's less reminiscent of sugar skulls - like doing it in irregular stripes or something.

I just don't want to make people feel bad.

I don't know what the logistics are of altering a design at this stage.

nidya
Wharton said:

I never quite understand the problem with cultural appropriation. I don't get bent out of shape if people draw a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea. Why is it ok for a Mexican to draw this but not a Serbian? What harm does it actually do. We all deal in stereotypes to one degree or another and if it isn't racist or derogatory then what is the issue?

It's not about harm, it's about respect. Drawing a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea is not exactly the same with this case or headdresses. It's not about stereotype, these things represent a significant meaning to their culture, and I get the admiration, but when you use them merely for aesthetic purpose, you reduce the meaning behind it to just pretty, it becomes nothing but just some decorations. That's where it has the potential to be offensive. Think about it this way, don't you ever get slightly pissed when someone wears a band's t-shirt they don't even listen to? It's like that but this is somebody's culture.

I give mad kudos to celandinestern for caring and for the obviously fantastic design!

Manupix

It's not a sugar skull, it happens to remotely look like one. It's a decorated skull and these are not exclusive to one culture. Problem solved =)

[+duracell-]

I'm offended by the moustache. Everything else looks good.

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
[+duracell-] said:

I'm offended by the moustache. Everything else looks good.

Chad, you're of Latin American descent?

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
Manupix said:

It's not a sugar skull, it happens to remotely look like one. It's a decorated skull and these are not exclusive to one culture. Problem solved =)

It actually genuinely isn't a sugar skull, as I said above my main inspiration was a Russian artist and just the general idea that skulls are such a strange object in our collective consciousness, where we find them eerie and beautiful at the same time, and feel a fascination at being faced with our own inner makeup. But as I said, artist's intent only counts for so much. If someone is walking in the street wearing it and someone else tells them 'hey that shirt is disrespectful to my culture', the person wearing the shirt is unlikely to be able to explain how my influences were Russian and the similarity is incidental.

nidya - exactly, that's the issue. On the band question - haha I'm the wrong person to ask, I honestly have no problem with that. I don't feel that elements of culture belonging to any particular group should be taboo to others, and in fact I'd be pleased/ amused to see an artist using, say, Serbian folk art in their art piece. But again, not everyone feels that way - and this is not so much about validating other people's feelings as about respecting them. I.e. I don't have to feel it's wrong in order to understand that someone else might genuinely feel it's wrong.

I don't know. I mean Threadless has other Day of the Dead designs that reference sugar skulls more directly. When I asked Nestor about this he linked me up to this, lol:

And there's this one too, that someone else pointed out....

I don't know. I mean when my cousin went on her honeymoon to Mexico recently they brought us back a ceramic painted skull, as a souvenir. But I'm cautious about trying to argument this away because I just realize I don't have the right sensitivities. I'd love more views from people actually belonging/ having direct experience in Latin American culture.

taz-pie

guys. don't you just sometimes feel like people are too fucking sensitive?

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
taz-pie said:

guys. don't you just sometimes feel like people are too fucking sensitive?

haha I do. All the time. But still :) Like, if they are, then I don't want to be the one trampling on their feelings.

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni

I also think there is a difference between those who seem to have taken up getting offended as a hobby and just go around looking for people to call out on things, and those who genuinely feel strongly about an issue that the other side perhaps doesn't understand. Like we all know why we shouldn't put swastikas on things. You just don't go there. And if you did, people would call you out on it, and they'd be right.

It's a wide scale though, and it's hard to judge sometimes. That's why it helps to get a lot of people to chime in - hopefully some general consensus emerges.

Morkki
Morkki profile pic Alumni
taz-pie said:

guys. don't you just sometimes feel like people are too fucking sensitive?

Welllll... yeah. A lot of times. But then again it's often not my place to tell people to chill the fuck out if it's their culture being appropriated.

I have to admit I have been really naive about the sugar skull thing because this is the first time it occurred to me soneone might get offended. It's because the certain kind of stylized sugar skull design is so widespread it's practically a part of global pop culture iconography now. It's easy to forget that the Day of the Dead for many people is not just a different kind of Halloween.

Then again, this particular design is not obviously a sugar skull although there are similarities and it's certainly not disrespectful (unless the snake is a bad symbol, I dunno). Like it's been said, painting skulls has been done all over the world so not every skull with flowers on it should be seen as a sugar skull. In this case I guess it could be the little mustache that mostly brings to mind the sugar skulls.

Manupix
taz-pie said:

guys. don't you just sometimes feel like people are too fucking sensitive?

All the time.

Then I just remembered I've been culturally offended once. So here's for that.

quick-brown-fox
quick-brown-fox profile pic Alumni

To be honest, I thought it was more of a Deftware style thing, which I really liked. Incidentally there was an artist I remember seeing a few years ago who made a bunch of Delfware style guns, grenades and other stuff.

Wharton
Wharton profile pic Alumni
nidya said:
Wharton said:

I never quite understand the problem with cultural appropriation. I don't get bent out of shape if people draw a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea. Why is it ok for a Mexican to draw this but not a Serbian? What harm does it actually do. We all deal in stereotypes to one degree or another and if it isn't racist or derogatory then what is the issue?

It's not about harm, it's about respect. Drawing a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea is not exactly the same with this case or headdresses. It's not about stereotype, these things represent a significant meaning to their culture, and I get the admiration, but when you use them merely for aesthetic purpose, you reduce the meaning behind it to just pretty, it becomes nothing but just some decorations. That's where it has the potential to be offensive. Think about it this way, don't you ever get slightly pissed when someone wears a band's t-shirt they don't even listen to? It's like that but this is somebody's culture.

I give mad kudos to celandinestern for caring and for the obviously fantastic design!

Yeah, you have a point there. I guess what I'm driving at is that almost everyday we draw upon aspects of other cultures and those aspects invariably aren't entirely accurate. Its difficult not to subscribe to stereotypes because we're drip fed ideas of other cultures without knowing any different. Without investing a time in understanding other peoples culture in more depth, its natural to rely on stereotypes.

I can understand how some uses of cultural symbols can be offensive but sometimes I also get the impression that some people will use any opportunity to get bent out of shape.

gasponce
Wharton said:
nidya said:
Wharton said:

I never quite understand the problem with cultural appropriation. I don't get bent out of shape if people draw a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea. Why is it ok for a Mexican to draw this but not a Serbian? What harm does it actually do. We all deal in stereotypes to one degree or another and if it isn't racist or derogatory then what is the issue?

It's not about harm, it's about respect. Drawing a bunch of English people with bowler hats and drinking tea is not exactly the same with this case or headdresses. It's not about stereotype, these things represent a significant meaning to their culture, and I get the admiration, but when you use them merely for aesthetic purpose, you reduce the meaning behind it to just pretty, it becomes nothing but just some decorations. That's where it has the potential to be offensive. Think about it this way, don't you ever get slightly pissed when someone wears a band's t-shirt they don't even listen to? It's like that but this is somebody's culture.

I give mad kudos to celandinestern for caring and for the obviously fantastic design!

Yeah, you have a point there. I guess what I'm driving at is that almost everyday we draw upon aspects of other cultures and those aspects invariably aren't entirely accurate. Its difficult not to subscribe to stereotypes because we're drip fed ideas of other cultures without knowing any different. Without investing a time in understanding other peoples culture in more depth, its natural to rely on stereotypes.

I can understand how some uses of cultural symbols can be offensive but sometimes I also get the impression that some people will use any opportunity to get bent out of shape.

good points!

nidya
Wharton said:

Yeah, you have a point there. I guess what I'm driving at is that almost everyday we draw upon aspects of other cultures and those aspects invariably aren't entirely accurate. Its difficult not to subscribe to stereotypes because we're drip fed ideas of other cultures without knowing any different. Without investing a time in understanding other peoples culture in more depth, its natural to rely on stereotypes.

I can understand how some uses of cultural symbols can be offensive but sometimes I also get the impression that some people will use any opportunity to get bent out of shape.

I agree, people can be so dramatic these days. I personally have no problem with people using each other's cultural symbol, as long as it's in good taste. But however I do strongly feel that it's necessary to educate ourselves about the cultural symbol beforehand, as not to cross the line.

thompson98
taz-pie said:

guys. don't you just sometimes feel like people are too fucking sensitive?

YES! and the terms "racist" and "culturally insensitive" are being thrown around way to much for tiny things. Like when Katy Perry wore a kimono for a performance and it was considered "racist". Seriously?? The awesome skull is taking inspiration from culture, not mocking it. I am actually sick and tired of "racist" accusations when it isn't. People need to learn the difference between racism and inspiration

Wharton
Wharton profile pic Alumni
nidya said:
Wharton said:

Yeah, you have a point there. I guess what I'm driving at is that almost everyday we draw upon aspects of other cultures and those aspects invariably aren't entirely accurate. Its difficult not to subscribe to stereotypes because we're drip fed ideas of other cultures without knowing any different. Without investing a time in understanding other peoples culture in more depth, its natural to rely on stereotypes.

I can understand how some uses of cultural symbols can be offensive but sometimes I also get the impression that some people will use any opportunity to get bent out of shape.

I agree, people can be so dramatic these days. I personally have no problem with people using each other's cultural symbol, as long as it's in good taste. But however I do strongly feel that it's necessary to educate ourselves about the cultural symbol beforehand, as not to cross the line.

Yep, I totally agree.

heykimby
quick-brown-fox said:

To be honest, I thought it was more of a Deftware style thing, which I really liked. Incidentally there was an artist I remember seeing a few years ago who made a bunch of Delfware style guns, grenades and other stuff.

Cultural appropriation didn't cross my mind at all, indeed I was also thinking of the works by the artist QBF mentioned much more than day of the dead type stuff (I was gonna email you a photo but then you had that skull image and it was already quite clear what we were doing haha). I've always found this type of china really pretty, my grandma had willow patterned dinner plates and I freaking love antiques roadshow.

I guess the pattern is more reminiscent of sugar skulls than delftware... in fact, I tagged my reblog on tumblr with Dia de los Muertos so it's probably my fault you're getting polite mexican guys discussing cultural appropriation in your askbox :(

gasponce

“On other news of the internet, white people gather round to talk how cultural appropriation is not a big deal”

oops

heykimby

(Also I'm gonna sit down right now and keep working on the cleanup... the way I'm doing it will mean that repatterning the skull will be super simple if want to give it a go!)

melmike
melmike profile pic Alumni
gasponce said:

“On other news of the internet, white people gather round to talk how cultural appropriation is not a big deal”

oops

Are people not supposed to do that? Or just not white people?

waynem
waynem profile pic Alumni

Cultures are fluid, evolving things, they're always borrowing from and influencing each other. Even if you had been referencing Day of the Dead imagery, you're not mocking or degrading it, so it's like any kind of critical feedback really. People are entitled to tell you they don't like what you did, but you're also allowed to respectfully reject that feedback if you have good reasons for it.

If all of Mexico starts leaving comments on your Tumblr then you might have a problem, otherwise, I think you're good.

taz-pie
melmike said:
gasponce said:

“On other news of the internet, white people gather round to talk how cultural appropriation is not a big deal”

oops

Are people not supposed to do that? Or just not white people?

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
heykimby said:
quick-brown-fox said:

To be honest, I thought it was more of a Deftware style thing, which I really liked. Incidentally there was an artist I remember seeing a few years ago who made a bunch of Delfware style guns, grenades and other stuff.

Cultural appropriation didn't cross my mind at all, indeed I was also thinking of the works by the artist QBF mentioned much more than day of the dead type stuff (I was gonna email you a photo but then you had that skull image and it was already quite clear what we were doing haha). I've always found this type of china really pretty, my grandma had willow patterned dinner plates and I freaking love antiques roadshow.

I guess the pattern is more reminiscent of sugar skulls than delftware... in fact, I tagged my reblog on tumblr with Dia de los Muertos so it's probably my fault you're getting polite mexican guys discussing cultural appropriation in your askbox :(

I was actually going for that ceramic style but the fact is time was short and I couldn't make the floral as lavish as I'd have liked, so it came off more sugarskullish, I guess. The reason the comment blindsided me is that I wasn't even considering sugar skulls while making the piece - of course now that it's pointed out the similarity seems glaring.

I love that gun by the way.

gasponce
melmike said:
gasponce said:

“On other news of the internet, white people gather round to talk how cultural appropriation is not a big deal”

oops

Are people not supposed to do that? Or just not white people?

Might this be a case of reversed racism? :o Oh wait NO that's not actually a thing LOL!!!

celandinestern
celandinestern profile pic Alumni
heykimby said:

(Also I'm gonna sit down right now and keep working on the cleanup... the way I'm doing it will mean that repatterning the skull will be super simple if want to give it a go!)

we could do a more lavish and porcelainish flower pattern, that would be fun and should clear up some of our issues :)

Wharton
Wharton profile pic Alumni
celandinestern said:
heykimby said:

(Also I'm gonna sit down right now and keep working on the cleanup... the way I'm doing it will mean that repatterning the skull will be super simple if want to give it a go!)

we could do a more lavish and porcelainish flower pattern, that would be fun and should clear up some of our issues :)

I think you should just stick to Serbian skulls and stop appropriating and exploiting other cultures. Take down your profile picture because the platypus isn't native to Europe you marsupial swiping Balkan.

sweet n sour
sweet n sour profile pic Alumni

not sure it's been said but that gun is by Charles Krafft, just if anyone wanted to know.

sweet n sour
sweet n sour profile pic Alumni

arn't dia de los muertos and sugar skull's the product of a combination of european and south american cultures anyway? they are themselves a product of cultural appropriation ironcly.

heykimby
sweet n sour said:

not sure it's been said but that gun is by Charles Krafft, just if anyone wanted to know.

Thanks James! I don't know if I knew his name even though I'm familiar with his ceramics - probably because of tumblr tbh. Did a quick google search and that guy has raised a good number of controversies himself...

Lidija, lets give that a go! I'm still messing around with the file (I've been way unfocused tonight, but I finished rescaling the snake and stuff). I'll try have something through tomorrow at some point :)

RonanL
RonanL profile pic Alumni

Always remember - Just because someone is offended, it doesn't make them necessarily right.

gasponce
RonanL said:

Always remember - Just because someone is offended, it doesn't make them necessarily right.

that works in so many ways! :)

Wharton
Wharton profile pic Alumni
RonanL said:

Always remember - Just because someone is offended, it doesn't make them necessarily right.

I think you've just misappropriated a part of the English culture you sagacious plagiarist :

:)

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