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Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

Jan 25, 2021

I've been reflecting on what it means to culturally appropriate, appreciate and reinvent, in response to the beautiful headdresses recently showcased at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (pictured here).  

I am no expert on this subject but I do come to it from a place of deep embodied contemplation (not academia, although I am quite an academic person and I have read substantially on the subject in this context).  I also come from a place of wanting to grow and heal and very much take responsibility for my own privilege and prejudice as well as that of my ancestors.  

These amazing headdresses were created by Polish artists who were inspired by a vision for recreating traditional Polish Slavic Wreaths.  I’m especially interested in the celebration of old ways and skills in a modern world where it intersects with our own heritage and I see this as part of our collective healing.  It's part of the Ayurveda Goddess course I run - an honouring of ancestry (in Sanskrit we call it 'tarpana') and a part of my life.   An example lies with a friend I spoke to yesterday who has Palestinian ancestry and is learning to sew Palestinian cross-stitch (which she says is very, very tricky to master!).  Another more simple and accessible example is the cooking of a meal that holds the flavours and memory of childhood.  The reason these headdresses light me up, apart from their incredible aesthetic is that they celebrate an ancient practice and bring it to the modern world with great beauty and grace. Part of an exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art involving a reinterpretation of the traditional Polish practice of creating floral headdresses, these images to me embody the poise and dignity of past merging with present in a way that is respectful, honest and contributes to the art in the world. 

I have been thinking about the word privilege a lot recently.  There are so many ways in my life in which privilege manifests and I meditate in gratitude on them every day.  One of the results of being aware of my privilege is the desire to be of service and show up to do my work in the world.  Sometimes this looks like parenting, sometimes it is community contribution. It took me years to figure out too that part of my service could also be found in doing creative work.  When we work creatively we share our dharma – our unique contribution – with the world and there is no greater joy. This is part of what it means to be human.

One way this creative work can manifest is in taking our original culture and ancestry and celebrating its beauty and joy.  In my personal Anglo-Saxon heritage there is much to be ashamed of (colonialism for start) and yet there are elements to celebrate, for example I’m interested in the work of the original wise women and herbalists of my ancestral background – women who were sometimes burned as witches for their abilities as midwives and healers.

It is very important that we collectively and individually take responsibility for our privilege and perpetration (where it has occurred) through our thoughts, words and deeds.  I am committed to this process and as far as I can see a powerful tool here is in looking for that which united us.  This is the great balm for our time.  There is so much division right now, politically, racially, culturally … this list of that which divide us and cause us to judge others goes on and on.  I am a yogi, I am interested in the work of YOGA which means to bind or connect or bring together. The questions I have spent my whole life attempting to answer are those of how we can find our sameness and then heal and grow and move forward together. Even in the yoga community at the moment there is a huge amount of division and critical energy.  I’m not saying we should not have difficult conversations.  I believe difficult conversations are very important to growth… but we need to bring the fruit of our spiritual practices to those conversations.  We need to create safe spaces for brave conversations and work to be inspired to all walk forward together. 




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