I’ve been reading a few Project Runway recaps and watching some sporadic clips online (again with the no cable thing–you think I can get cable written off as a blogging expense?), and a couple of people sent me this image from last week’s episode.
From what I can gather, the contestants were asked to create a textile design, and then make an outfit centered around their creation. Gretchen chose the design above, which she called a “squash blossom” design, as a nod to her upbringing in the southwest.
So, it’s actually kinda pretty. I like it. But, it’s not a squash blossom design. This is a squash blossom design (or at least what I’ve always seen referred to as a Navajo squash blossom necklace):
Gretchen’s design is, to me anyway, a Zuni headdress/sunbonnet design:
I think this brings up a really interesting discussion. I think it is ok for designers to “draw inspiration” from Native cultures, but it can become very uncomfortable very quickly, and there is a fine line between what is acceptable and what could be considered otherizing, marginalizing, and cultural appropriation.
As it stands, Gretchen collapsed many distinct tribes throughout the southwest region into one “Southwest Native American Style”, and mis-characterized the design as a “squash blossom”. She didn’t attach an actual tribe to the design, which a quick google would have solved real quickly.
But also, like I said, I didn’t see the episode, so let me know if I’m giving her an unreasonably hard time.
So, if Gretchen had said “my design is a design taken from the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico, it is a traditional headdress or sun bonnet design, and is often used on jewelry pieces by pueblo artisans…” or something of the sort, would it have been better? I’m not sure.
Where do we draw the line of inspiration and appropriation? Can “inspiration” be done in a way that is positive for the (almost always) marginalized communities that the designs or styles are taken from?
These are things I grapple with all the time as images come through my inbox…and I’m still not sure I have an easy answer.
UPDATE: apparently Gretchen DID call it a “sunbonnet” design, and the “squash blossom” came from the bloggers who apparently don’t pay attention to the actual episode they are recapping. From my friend A.:
“Although I don’t pretend to speak for the propriety of Gretchen’s use of the sun bonnet pattern, I watched the episode, and she did say she was inspired by her mom’s sun bonnet jewelry (not squash blossom), with multiple references to having grown up “in the southwest.” The whole episode is available for viewing on mylifetime.com (it was an awesome episode, although not because of Gretchen).”
So thanks for filling me in!