A World Art History and its Objects – David Carrier

Reading the section  ‘Overture : Islamic Carpets in European Paintings’ really brought to the forefront the problem of cultural appropriation.  In the confines of this article David Carrier refers to this idea by saying that the carpets had lost their religious or sacred significance once they entered European houses.  Their art was no longer appreciated as it was meant to be, because how this new culture interacted with it from a distance.

While it is perhaps an anachronism to talk about appropriation in the Renaissance, what would turn into colonialism got some of its start here.  There has always been dominate and subordinate cultures, with the dominate taking certain things it likes from the subordinate and then using them however they please.  The true value and cultural significance of Islamic carpets may never be known, however many, especially those bearing language or images of religious importance were probably used in that setting.  Carrier mentions that Europeans usage or misusage of these carpets was probably not purposely hostile- just ignorant.  The similarities between this and the usage of Native American ceremonial and often sacred garb as costumes by white people is unmistakeable.  Today the claim to ignorance no longer holds water.  Nine times out of ten there is probably more ignorance at play than hostility, however the exchange of culture is so much easier today.  There is still a fascination with and fear of other, but other doesn’t have to be as other as it was in the Renaissance because we have the internet.

I think it would be foolish to blame the Renaissance Europeans for appropriating this Islamic art for a mere floor covering, because that puts our cultural lens on there’s.  However, I think the way Carrier addresses it is dangerous.  His manner allows for a claim to ignorance because the original intent was not known.  The Art Institute houses a few examples of native ceremonial wear from around the world and it is art.  Thousands of microscopic beads often sewn in patterns of a particular significance.  They are beautiful, but knowing the significance does nothing to take away from the aesthetic beauty as it seems the quote from Michael Franses might have been suggesting.  In fact the beauty and intricacy is what makes the appropriation all the more distressing.

Katelyn Kiner – Hope College – 2017



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