Cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion - the de­bate con­tin­ues

Montreal Times - - News -

The nor­mally pleas­ant fes­ti­val sea­son this past sum­mer was un­ex­pect­edly shaken by con­tro­versy when the Jazz Fes­ti­val sched­uled the show "Slav" as part of its lineup.At the time of the pre­sen­ta­tions, a large group of mostly black peo­ple gath­ered in front of the The­atre du nou­veau monde, de­cry­ing the show as "racist." The rea­son for the protests was the fact that de­spite the sub­ject of the mu­si­cal –a se­lec­tion of songs cre­ated or in­ter­preted by blacks dur­ing slav­ery– only two of the six per­form­ers were black. Betty Boni­fassi, a white artist, was the lead singer. Even­tu­ally, af­ter just a cou­ple of per­for­mances, the Jazz Fes­ti­val de­cided to can­cel the show, in fact, one of the pre­sen­ta­tions had been sus­pended due to an ac­ci­dent suf­fered by Ms. Boni­fassi, but the main rea­son given for the can­cel­la­tion was the se­cu­rity is­sues that the whole af­fair had cre­ated.These se­cu­rity con­cerns were about both the per­form­ers and the pub­lic at­tend­ing the show.

The can­cel­la­tion of the show cre­ated an im­me­di­ate con­tro­versy: while black ac­tivists, artists, as well as cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors, es­pe­cially in the English and al­lo­phone milieus gen­er­ally sup­ported the protests and the sus­pen­sion of the show, Robert Lepage, creator and artis­tic di­rec­tor of the show, protested what he char­ac­ter­ized as "cen­sor­ship." Many of the cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors on the French side aligned them­selves with Lepage. The is­sue was what has been called "cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion," a con­cept dif­fi­cult to de­fine in the ab­stract, but in a con­text where there are dom­i­nant and dom­i­nated cul­tures, at least for those who par­take in the dom­i­nated side, it is easy to un­der­stand. Cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion could be seen then as an act by which mem­bers of the dom­i­nant or colo­nial cul­ture make use of el­e­ments or im­ages of a dom­i­nated cul­ture (e.g. black, indige­nous) for their own in­ter­pre­ta­tion, with­out par­tic­i­pa­tion or con­sul­ta­tion with the mem­bers of the his­tor­i­cally sub­ju­gated group.

The is­sue was am­ply de­bated this past Mon­day at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity dur­ing a de­bate ti­tled "Cause or Con­se­quence—Cul­tural Ap­pro­pri­a­tion or Cul­tural Hege­mony" or­ga­nized by Teesri Du­niya The­atre and the The­atre De­part­ment of Con­cor­dia Univer­sity. The pan­elists were Xavier Huard, a fran­co­phone ac­tor, mem­ber of the Menu­en­takuan The­atre; Rahul Varma, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Teesri Du­niya The­atre, play­wright; Floyd P. Favel, an indige­nous play­wright; and the an­thro­po­log­i­cal re­searcher and art critic, James Os­car. Com­mu­nity ac­tivist and artist Deb­o­rah Forde was the mod­er­a­tor.

Huard ti­tled his pre­sen­ta­tion "Re­flec­tions on the French Cul­tural Mi­croSys­tem of Que­bec" which fo­cused on the role of the fran­co­phone artis­tic com­mu­nity re­gard­ing this is­sue and the fact that this com­mu­nity it­self was the sub­ject of dom­i­na­tion at one point.Varma for his part in an ad­dress called "It is Cul­tural Hege­mony, and it is Sys­tem­atic" de­liv­ered a strong crit­i­cism of Lepage's "Slav" mak­ing also ref­er­ences to "Kanata," an­other con­tro­ver­sial work by the renowned Que­bec play­wright in which the sub­ject was indige­nous his­tory, but with­out the indige­nous peo­ple.Varma reaf­firmed the sys­tem­atic char­ac­ter of this ap­proach on the part of some au­thors from the hege­monic cul­ture. Favel made an il­lus­tra­tive ref­er­ence to his own ex­pe­ri­ence as an indige­nous play­wright and the vi­cis­si­tudes he had to en­dure in his work. He stated that indige­nous the­atre should be an artis­tic genre with its own meth­ods. James Os­car for his part ap­proached the sub­ject ad­dress­ing is­sues of "good" and "com­mon good" and how these no­tions re­late to the dis­cus­sion of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion and iden­tity.

The evening was en­light­en­ing and prob­a­bly a new chap­ter in a de­bate still open.

(Dou­ble­day Canada, $35)

Cause or Con­se­quence, was the ti­tle of the de­bateheld at Con­cor­dia Univer­sity this past Mon­day

Floyd P. Favel, and indige­nous play­wrightmakes his pre­sen­ta­tion

In the photo, play­wright and di­rec­tor Rahul Varma,and the mod­er­a­tor, Deb­o­rah Forde

"Salv" was cre­ated by renowned Que­bec au­thor anddi­rec­tor Robert Lepage

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