person who purchased them truly grasps the history between the individual
and the object, the context within which the object came to mean something
to the individual, or how that very relationship gets at the nature of sacredness.
They are simply objects to be had, sold, and used in ways other than intended.
Now extend that understanding to culture in general. As far back as
anyone can remember, human beings have drawn on their surroundings
for inspiration and materials to create shelter, clothing, and art. By studying
these sources and materials, scholars, students, and curious members of the
public can learn not only what is and has been important to a given society
but also how they responded to the forces at work in their world. The sources
provide the context within which we understand ourselves and another.
The same is true today. The materials we use to make things, and how
we choose to communicate about ourselves and the forces at play in the
world, inform what we value. In design speak these forces are known as
trends, and we see them play out in patterns, materials, and methods of production. They too provide a context for understanding ourselves and others.
With the dawn of the Internet, and the proliferation of sites like Pinterest
and Instagram, trends emerge and take hold much faster than ever before.
Bloggers and other online voices take this information one step further, curating
the rapidly evolving digital world and packaging it into concepts for living,
cooking, dressing, communicating, and more.
In this modern process of finding, publishing, and repackaging, oftentimes
not only is the source material lost, but also the context within which the
object was produced. And when this disappears, so too does the notion of
ownership or authorship. Appropriation happens when an object is separated
from the people and culture that produced it. In that process, something that
once possessed meaning and beauty becomes a shell of its former self, is
stripped of its identity, and transformed into an entity to be consumed.
That so much appropriation is happening at such a rapid pace with very
little outcry begs the questions: What is worth protecting? What is sacred?
And can people (or cultures) actually own designs?
With so many industries (fashion, textiles, furnishings) turning to global cultures
for design inspiration, we believe it is time to ask these questions, and to provide
some guidelines for how to work with this material respectfully.
Let’s examine a few examples of “global design” at work in the marketplace.
◗ For their 2016 advertisement campaign, an Italian fashion house
featured models standing in the Kenyan desert landscape and in a
Maasai tribal village wearing dresses elaborately beaded in patterns
that read tribal and African.
◗ On home décor websites, one increasingly sees Kuba cloth inspired
patterns on rugs and pillows.
◗ Shibori patterned, indigo-dyed fabric is used for decorative throw
pillows, bed coverings, and table ware.
◗ A London-based fashion house presents a line of woman’s clothing
based on Native American designs, while an American-based dinnerware company sells Native American-inspired patterns.
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held in the
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