Non-Object Based Cultural Appropriation (?)

Conn in particular, though it’s certainly a running theme in all of these readings, identifies that objects are no longer central to the conception and function of the museum (58). (I mean, the entire book is called ‘Do Museums Still Need Objects?’, so that’s not insightful.) Still, though, Conn’s discussion around of objects in the issues of repatriation highlights issues specific to cultural work around displaying and interpreting these objects.

It’s difficult, though, to discuss cultural appropriation in this larger context – not limited to objects, but to festivals, language, activities, ideas. These “objects,” not tangible to the museum element, are still just as relevant to our questions around our work and practice. But in the object-focused culture surrounding museum collections, the visual aid limits the types of conversations we can have about stereotypes and cultural  appropriation. It places the issue first and foremost on the physical presence of the object, making the connections – programming, interpretation, or other – seem tangentially solved. These readings made me feel as though cultural appropriation doesn’t happen, at least for the same reasons, with the non-tangible “objects.”

But we know it does happen – as Rica’s presentation brings up with intellectual property, or as Scafidi describes in the legal issues around African-American music like jazz and blues. And in some cases, like in Scafidi’s case of depreciative commodification, the symbolism or images that depict an aspect of culture should be just as scrutinized as the use of objects themselves.  Though our readings make a distinction between repatriation and appropriation, the issues are intrinsically linked – even more so cases without visual or tangible elements.

Clifford seems to challenge this idea then – making museums-as-contact-zones less about the objects, but about the relationships between object and culture, people and place. Still, the object is central to exploring the contact zone and structuring collections in this fashion. But I want to take it a step further and remove the physical element of objects entirely. What happens to these discussions of cultural appropriation in digital, exploratory spaces? How do digital-born objects experience cultural appropriation, and in what ways can they be rehabilitated or repatriated? How do reproductions function in this space, when the text, language, or associated materials? In what ways is cultural appropriation minimized or amplified in these environments? Digital projects, spaces, and collections should have the same responsibilities as museums to ensure, but in what ways is cultural appropriation occuring  when the object is partially (or entirely) removed from the situation?

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