Eddy Firmin Y [Danger], détail de l’installation | installation detail, 2016.
Photo : Guy L’Heureux, permission de | courtesy of the artist

Cultural Imperative, Appropriationist Regime and Visual Art

Eddy Firmin
Speaking as an Afro-Caribbean artist exiled in Québec, I will discuss cultural appropriation not as an issue that is specific to our times, but as the consequence of a discursive regime of Western art — the appropriationist regime.

As I understand it, a regime is an identifiable system of discourse that controls the sharing of sensory knowledge in a society (Jacques Rancière, Michel Foucault). Art regimes, therefore, define the various normative policies regarding the teaching, production, perception, circulation, and reception of artworks. This line of thought assumes an origin that extends farther back in time than the current debate on cultural appropriation because regimes bring about continuities and ruptures over extended periods.
My personal experience has led me to the notion of the cultural imperative, which also aims to displace an enduring false interpretation: that cultural appropriation can be indiscriminately applied both to minority cultures and to cultures in positions of power. The notion of the cultural imperative allows us to identify the presence of the appropriationist regime through its effects, and the cultural appropriation debate allows us to draw nearer to two of its processes: predation and cultural consumerism.1 1 - Bernard Stiegler defines cultural consumerism as a mode of cultural over-consumption created by a marketing rationale (which, among other things, translates into a constant desire for the new). He states that “the art lover … has slowly but surely been transformed into a cultural consumer.” “Bernard Stiegler : conférence à Paris du 8 sept. 2009,” Dailymotion, video recording (Paris: Tvetoile.net, 2009), 10 min 22 s, www.dailymotion.com/video/xalb2i (our translation).

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This article also appears in the issue 97 - Appropriation

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