Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mara Hoffman and cultural appropriation.

I have been pondering whether or not to write about this for more than a few days, in fact, ever since I saw this beautiful dress on a pinterest board. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that this was something that had to be talked about. After a few mouse clicks I found out that the designer behind the pretty dress was Mara Hoffman and that there is in fact a whole line of clothing with these patterns:  swimsuits, bikinis, coverups, pants...
As a Mexican, I recognized these designs straight away: they come from traditional embroidery works, handmade by the Otomi people, in the small town of Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo (which is also why these textiles are also sometimes referred to as Tenangos). The origin of this specific tradition is neatly summarized in this article, from where I took this excerpt:

"Many motifs common to tenangos are believed to be inspired by the ancient wall paintings found in nearby caves. There are also similarities between tenango embroidered patterns—such as the depiction of plants, animals and natural forces—and the designs found in the cut-bark paper craft known as amate, practiced by Otomí shamans for thousands of years."

Via here
The truth is, these textiles represent not only expert craftmanship, but are also a means of cultural expression, a reflection of their particular cosmovision that goes back to times immemorial. We are facing an art form in its own right:

"Tenangos evoke a spirit of magical realism, merging the real and the mythical. They provide a link to their storied past and a gateway to the future, providing a sense of cultural identity and a means of trading on the international stage. Like the collective memory of the Otomí, tenangos, in fiber and filament, preserve and perpetuate the history of the region and the traditions of the Otomí people."

Image by Teyacapan via here
Which is why I was enraged, and could not believe what I was reading when I saw the description of these garments in Mara Hoffman's website simply as: "colorful exotic animal print" or "colorful embroidered animal print". WTF !!! Where is the credit? Is this plain old plagiarism? I understand that fashion can be art, and that in art, inspiration comes from everywhere. But when that is the case, you should name your sources. As it seems, the patterns were just taken, calcated, directly copied. A matter of cultural appropriation in any case:

"cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held."

I can only hope that the designer will try and mend this, by giving proper credit and perhaps, more importantly, by contributing to the communities from which she stole took her ideas.

11 comments:

  1. ¡Acabo de enojarme mucho con lo que cuentas en post! Es el colmo... a parte de triste.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Si ya se... yo es que no lo puedo creer. Que fuerte !

      Delete
  2. Qué verguenza! Lo minimo que tendria que hacer es dedicar un porcentaje a ayudar a las comunidades, una verdadera verguenza. Yo lo ví mucho con los diseños africanos de los diseñadores parisinos y da mucha, mucha bronca.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Si, es lo que pienso, deberia aportar algo a la comunidad, poner escuelas, ayudar a que las artesanas sean independientes, hay muchas maneras, y si que da rabia.

      Delete
    2. vine acá a quejarme de lo mismo!!

      Delete
  3. Amanda, hiciste bien en noticiar esto. El arte otomí me parece precioso y cualquier promoción, homenaje o referencia al mismo siempre se agradecerá. Apropiarse de algo así no puede ni debe pasar desapercibido. Saludos, Carlos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hola Carlos ! Si, es verdaderamente bonito, espero que la gente se entere, que el mensaje se difunda. Muchos saludos y gracias por la visita :)

      Delete
    2. Gracias a ti Amanda, por tu respuesta y por tu visita al áisberg. También respondí a tu mensaje. Me gustó mucho El guardagujas. Saludos.

      Delete
  4. Thanks for writing this - it's a super important topic and it's important to educate people about these prints, where they come from (originally), etc. There was just a similar situation with Anthropologie using the print on one of their dresses and calling it 'Folk Art Dress". There was a bit of outrage from the community here in Mexico that works with artisans and after various comments through Facebook and e-mail, Anthropologie finally removed the dress for sale from their site. You can see it on the Facebook comments on Anthropologie's site. Thanks again for bringing this up. Muchos saludos from Chiapas.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for this eloquent and honest piece. I've been waiting to read something like this on Mara Hoffman for quite a while.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for this eloquent and honest piece. I've been waiting to read something like this on Mara Hoffman for quite a while.

    ReplyDelete

I love your comments, let's talk .

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...