Cultural appropriation at stake: a conversation is required
Diversité Artistique Montréal (DAM) has followed the exchanges on social networks over the last month on a performance involving an act of cultural appropriation during the Souk-Cité 2 event organized by Danse Cité. DAM did not witness the performance of September 8, but was aware of the situation through communications from Montreal, arts interculturels (MAI), Center for Community Organizations COCo) and the artist Angie Cheng who questioned the performance.
Despite warnings and concerns received from MAI and COCo, the two artists presented themselves in their performance with their faces painted white and wearing Japanese costumes while performing to mock Japanese music and mimicking the Japanese language.
As a watchdog on issues of cultural diversity, DAM would like to emphasize the unacceptable nature of a performance that appropriates the culture of a historically discriminated population and mockingly portrays them through the employment of racial stereotypes. We must not forget that just 75 years ago this country created Japanese internment camps, where Canadians of Japanese origin were relieved of their rights as citizens. This was followed by discriminatory practices that persisted for many years since. This incident also raises issues similar to those that DAM and other organizations identified during the controversy on the blackface at the Rideau Vert Theater.
Without assuming what the intentions were when the performance was created and produced, DAM would like to draw attention to the fact that cultural appropriation needs to be viewed within a larger historical context and is linked to the systemic power that is rampant in our society. Appropriation decontextualizes the cultural significance of rituals, symbols, clothing, language and more, minimalizing the importance and reverence the original culture places on those very same practices.
DAM firmly supports the actions undertaken by Angie Cheng who has denounced this act by inviting the opening of a dialogue about appropriation within the artistic community, requesting the Regroupement québécois de la danse (RQD) be intricately involved in this process.
DAM invites the RQD and Danse-cité to work in tandem with the community to reflect on the measurable effects of systemic racism in the dance community. This can only serve to create a more inclusive climate that ends incidents like this one. DAM encourages both organizations to equip themselves with the proper tools by reexamining their ethical and business practices and policies, that serve to actively or passively contribute to the problem, and change them. The Cellule iDAM is one of the useful ressources at their disposal for the adjustments that must be ascertained to better serve the reality of the artistic community.
Cultural Appropriation is a serious topic and The MAI (Montréal, Arts Interculturels) and Center for Community Organizations (COCo) are organizing a conference on this topic, November 16, 2017 and DAM would like its members and community to turn out in their numbers. The Canada Council for the arts also recently publicly addressed the issue. Furthermore, the issue of appropriaton is among the topics of discussion within the mandate of Consultation on Systemic Racism that DAM will announce this Fall.