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Friday, May 19, 2017

Andrew Lawton: Is cultural appropriation an act of theft or artistic literary exploration?

Two Canadian magazine editors have resigned and a television producer has been reassigned after defending the right of authors and other artists to take inspiration from cultures different than their own.

The phenomenon in question is called cultural appropriation: Inherent in the name is the implication that the act is theft, rather than a literary exploration of a world beyond the writer’s own.

Toronto painter Amanda PL was quite open about her work taking inspiration in both style and subject matter from an Anishnaabe artist. She was honouring that artist, not plagiarizing. But that didn’t stop the Visions Gallery from cancelling the event, capitulating to the mob of people accusing the artist of racism and colonialism.

And then came Hal Niedzviecki, the editor of Write — the magazine of the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) — who contended that authors should be not only be allowed, but encouraged, to craft characters across the spectrum of cultures.

“In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities,” he said in the editor’s note, for which TWUC has since apologized.

The union apologized for the hurt caused by the piece, and rather ironically said the magazine aims to be “sincerely encouraging to all voices.” Except in apologizing for Niedzviecki’s piece, the union is in effect saying not all voices are welcome...

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