Fellow white people, and settlers in particular, this project is for us. White supremacy, colonialism and extractive capitalism are so embedded in our Western cultures that they are almost impossible to see. Knowingly or unknowingly, we are complicit in institutions and communities that uphold white supremacy. Us white people benefit from white privilege; e.g. we can look to other cultures and pick out hair-styles, clothing, spiritual practises, recipes, music, etc. à la carte to make our own. We get to decide what aspects of other cultures are valuable and worthy of “appreciation.” At the same time, we can judge BIPOC for living their own cultures and expressing cultural norms that we don’t appreciate. Cultural appropriation upholds the patterns of colonialism because it’s extractive; one group with more power than another defines the terms of what cultural interactions are acceptable and what cultural ‘objects’ are worthy of extraction.
This body of work was developed during the Design Science Studio residency and consists of three series of posters that centre on three themes: 1. universalization, 2. the intersection of toxic positivity and spirituality, and 3. a systems view of cultural appropriation. The content of the posters came about as a response to discussions about cultural appropriation and racism within the residency. Universalization is the grouping of everyone together such that differences, in particular in oppression and power, are made invisible; for example, “all lives matter” responds to the Black Lives Matter movement by universalizing the value of lives to obscure the reality that Black lives are not valued the same as white lives in social systems. “100 Percent” is a series of posters consisting of upper case texts on brightly coloured backgrounds that make strong assertions that reject some of the universalizing statements that have been used during the Design Science Studio.
At the intersection of toxic positivity and spirituality, motivational messages implicitly centre a privileged point of view and elevate positive intention and mind-set as central to success, e.g. “Good vibes only”. “This Work May Trigger White Fragility!” is a parody of the motivational poster that subverts their visual style, and some of their vocabulary, using anti-racist messages.
A systems view of cultural appropriation involves going beyond the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ binary to a nuanced view where the harmfulness of appropriation depends on the relations around the appropriated object, appropriator and the cultural dynamics around them. “Constellations of Appropriation” are two large scale posters that continue the stylistic reference to spirituality used in “This Work May Trigger White Fragility!” and use the aesthetic of star constellations as a metaphor to organize systems-based depictions of various acts of cultural appropriation and appreciation. Cultural appropriation is consistent with extractive capitalism where an object (artifact or practise) is removed from the systems in which it has adapted; this separation allows the appropriator to redefine and reconstruct the appropriated object. In the extreme, the disconnection can lead to caricaturing where the ‘appropriated’ object reflects the appropriator’s point of view regardless of its accuracy or meaning in the culture from which it’s appropriated. Objects are not isolated and the ways in which they are re-contextualized and redefined changes the harms caused by the appropriation.
This Work May Trigger White Fragility!
Constellations of Appropriation
Posters from the series are available on my Society6 store.
As a white person it’s easy to pass the work of others, in particular BIPOC, as my own. This work did not come about in isolation. Not only did it emerge from my discourse with members of the Design Science Studio (DSS), but also through conversations on these topics in relation to the DSS with my partner Nadine Nakagawa. The specific ideas for these works often came about during conversations about the DSS with Nadine and the approach and language were developed in collaboration. While I maintain authorship because I have creative control of the project, it is clear that this work would be very different or may not exist at all independently of our discourse. Nadine and I attended lectures, read articles and discussed books. It was Nadine that noted that I had fallen into the white supremacist pattern of erasure where I kept implicit Nadine’s contributions to this work. This acknowledgement is an effort to correct this erasure and expose this not as isolated work, but work happening in a conversation beyond myself and the DSS.
Within the DSS I appreciated the time and opportunity to model my actions and refine my thinking thanks to, at times highly challenging, interactions with: Gail Thomas, Vincent Dumoulin, Yustina Salnikova, Chris Weir, Luisa Schumacher Resto, Ganga Devi Braun, Paulo Gregory, Amber Bassett, Tigre Bailando, X RAZMA, Mansi Kakkar, Asya Abdrahman, Carlotta Aoun, Colin Vale, Doc Richey, Haris Adele, Monika Sieminska, Natalya Robinson Sheveleva, Nicolas Alcala, Roxanna Shohadaee, Umair Zia Malik, Michael Robinson, Michael Amstrong, Richard Struppi Pohl and Susan Koch.
The discourse is part of a much broader conversation about colonialism, racism and white supremacy that expands beyond the DSS, Nadine and I. Decolonizing, anti-racism and a critique of white supremacy owes everything to the labour of BIPOC who have been working on these topics for decades. I would like to highlight some of the authors and organizations whose work situates this project, in no particular order: Maisha Z. Johnson, Ibram X. Kendi, The Hua Foundation, David Shorter, Layla F. Saad, Dismantling Racism Works, and Audre Lorde.