Will campaigns against cultural appropriation destroy the arts?

Friday 10 November, 19:0021:00, Rich Mix, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London, E1 6LAUK satellites


Tickets: £7, £5 concessions. Book via Rich Mix

Is the campaign against cultural appropriation destroying the arts? What started out as an attack on white pop stars wearing dreadlocks and North American students partying in sombreros has taken a more troubling turn. Artists, who may have thought they were showing their commitment to diversity, have been charged with exploiting the cultures of ethnic minorities. American artist Dana Schutz came under public attack for her painting of brutally murdered black boy Emmet Till at the Whitney Biennial in New York. Campaigners have subsequently attempted to close down her exhibition in Boston to punish her for her temerity in ‘appropriating’ Black American history. A Toronto artist’s exhibition was closed down because it ‘appropriated’ the indigenous art of a local Native American tribe.

Increasingly, artists and writers find their creative impulses curtailed by fears that they will be offending one minority group or another by ‘stealing’ their culture.  Charges of cultural appropriation seem to threaten the very roots of cultural openness, exchange, fluidity and creativity – the imaginative possibilities of entering and engaging with other cultures.

But do attacks on cultural appropriation have a point? Do the public need to be made aware of the cultural theft that has been perpetrated against minority cultures? Should respect for the cultural history of particular groups take precedence over artistic inspiration?  Should artists and writers be held to account for the way they use sources outside their own culture to inspire and create their own work? Are they profiteering from cultures that don’t have access to resources for their own cultural expression?

At this Battle of Ideas satellite, British writer and philosopher Kenan Malik will examine the impulses behind the attacks on cultural appropriation and, with three respondents working in the arts, explore impacts on the arts and creativity.