While cultural appropriation has been a widely debated topic in India it cannot be denied that the flipside of it is that it has shone the spotlight on Indian Culture. So, what is the problem with cultural appropriation? Yoga today is a common fitness regime all over the world. We are not miffed about it? The line between shining a light on an underrepresented culture and celebrating it and not knowing enough about the culture and yet appropriating is very thin. This is perhaps the case which fumed so many netizens when Emma Chamberlain wore Maharaja of Patiala’s choker to the Met Gala.
Emma Chamberlain, the popular YouTuber who wore Louis Vuitton to the Gala, was signed by Cartier (the French Brand) as its brand ambassador. Chamberlain arrived at the MET predictably dripping in diamonds. However, it was her choker that caught everyone’s attention.
Part of the famous Patiala Necklace, the choker belonged to the Maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh. Netizens believe it is a historical artefact and its place is in a museum and not on a red carpet. It was made in 1928 after the Maharaja decided to turn his De Beers diamond (reportedly the 7th largest in the world) into an heirloom choker. It reportedly went missing for a certain period of time before reappearing in London. Following this, it was “re-bought/re-acquired” by Cartier. There are allegations of the choker having been “stolen” but nothing substantial has been found to reinforce this claim.
For the reader, at the same event, Kim Kardashian also made a strong statement when she walked the red carpet in pop icon Marilyn Monroe’s iconic dress.
Emma Chamberlain Choker
Chamberlain wearing the necklace has been looked down upon by the netizens. The necklace is a part of India’s history and many believe it is downright disrespectful to lend it to celebrities even if it meant being showcased on fashion’s biggest night. However, there are claims that it is not the same choker. But for any Indian a discussion on Indian royal jewellery brings to mind the highly contested treasure – Kohinoor which sits in London to date.
It’s probably like the legacy of the past is aggravating this wound too. So how can modern nations deal with the colonial legacy? It is a very important question which needs debate. So, is Cultural Appropriation a bad thing? It depends on the context, whether one is stealing from or adding to culture.
If we recall Rihanna’s Ganesha Pendant controversy it explains the thin line between appreciation and appropriation of a culture. In February 2021 the pop icon sparked controversy by posing in lavender night shorts from her lingerie line and accessorising her look with diamond bracelets, neckpieces of Ganesha and huge drop earrings, Rihanna can be seen covering her breasts with one hand. And, netizens were certainly not happy.
After some time it was discovered that her deity pendant had existed for much longer with the singer and in fact, she had shared a picture with it too. But in the first instance as she had won praise for its Indian connect. Puzzled? Well, bindis, henna, tattoos, and sarees have all been victims of cultural appropriation.
Suggested Reading: Everything To Know About Rihanna’s Ganesha Pendant Controversy
Gatekeeping is certainly not the solution to cultural appropriation because that will help breed stereotypes further. People need to be encouraged to understand the culture and history so that they are able to understand the significance of their actions. That is the only way to ensure that we are appreciating and not appropriating.
The views expressed are the author’s own