Expressive forms are often associated with certain places or nations, or with certain groups of people categorized by nationality, ethnicity, age, social class or sexual orientation.
Since my dissertation on Middle Eastern dance in Stockholm (2010), I have a continued interest in expressive forms in motion. What happens when music and or dance associated with a certain cultural or social context is performed in another setting, or by people without the “correct” origin or identity?
Such transferred expressive forms are often criticized and considered as lacking in authenticity, since they are performed in the wrong place, by the wrong people or in the wrong way. The performances are also judged in relation to notions of naturalness, antiquity and consistency over time.
Cultural forms spread from the West to the rest of the world can be criticized for producing uniformity and cultural imperialism. When cultural forms from Africa, Asia or Latin America are adopted by Westerners, the performers are often criticized for cultural appropriation or exotization.
This critique is important and may often be justified, given the unequal distribution of power and recourses in the world. However, there is a weakness in this line of argument, since it rests on the apprehension that cultural forms have “natural” connections to certain people and particular places. Taken too far, this argument contradicts the idea of cultural identities, nationality and ethnicity as social constructions, possible to change. It also contradicts the notion of globalization and the flows of people, information and culture.
Regardless if the inspiration goes from the West to “the Rest” or in the opposite direction, cultural forms are most often received in creative ways, mixed and transformed into new, local varieties. These new esthetic expressions may entertain, please or provoke. There may also be further implications, since expressive forms and performances contribute to creating, challenging and recreating communities as well as antagonisms.
Why Folkloristics? International Conference. Uppsala University, Campus Gotland, Visby, 10-12 juni 2015