As a creative, am I exoticizing a culture or establishing a respectful collaboration?

As Ecuador is a multinational and intercultural country, the usual thing should be to naturalize the ethnic diversity that exists in the country in a constant way, not only when it is desired to appropriate their customs and traditions in commercial areas. Any artist whose source of inspiration derives from a specific culture is responsible for showing respect for that culture and at the same time recognizing the current dilemmas that afflict these groups. It’s also important to put yourself in that context. Ask yourself, what role do I and my ancestors play in the history of this culture? Do I come from a culture that has historically oppressed the ethnic group from which I am drawing inspiration? Could subconscious attitudes exist in me that perpetuate that oppression? When ethnic elements are used explicitly, or when they are used as inspiration, it should not only represent them as something wild, ancient, exotic, beautiful and different, but also enhance their cultural traits, their history and worldview, their empowerment and the work they do. currently. This text will show how many artists have made ethnicity an essentially nominal matter, while its true meaning has remained invisible. It will also propose a guide to self-assess if our creative work is exoticizing and decontextualizing ethnic elements, or if it uses them with respect.

Ethnicity developed as fashion in the sixties among hippies, when white and mixed race people became interested in incorporating ethnic and tribal elements into their outfits. The trend did not last long in relation to fashion; however, it emerged with force from 2010 onwards. During this entire period and today, the ethnic continues to be handled superficially. Symbols, physical features, costumes and traditions have been highlighted in an exacerbated way, without having an investigative background. This has led to the generation of erroneous stereotypes, for example, that Europe and North America are presented as something modern compared to South-Central America, Asia and Africa as something archaic.

If we focus on the fashion industry, there are cases in which designers and big brands unify symbols and cultural markers in the same outfit. That is, wanting to show all the cultural diversity in a garment, which simplifies culture and does not allow it to be understood or represented. Other times traditions are removed from their context without reference to the cultures from which they come.

When we create, what we should look for is to inform ourselves about the inspirational source. At the same time it is important to ask ourselves, what do I want to communicate? Why do certain aesthetics appeal to me, and what do they mean for your native culture? So that we make sure that our intention is not only to market a product for our personal benefit, but to use design as a tool to claim ethnodiversity.

The visibility of ethnodiversity is important, as long as said ethnic group wants that visibility. If instead of just appropriating or drawing inspiration from an ethnic group, one collaborates with it, then the permission to make visible is implicit within the collaboration. Thus, any type of negative appropriation is avoided. It is up to us to venerate that knowledge and make sure we have permission to share it. The moment you responsibly appropriate something that characterizes them, it must be done in a conscious way without taking it to the exotic. That is why we invite you to analyze this dialog to make sure that you are not taking your creations to exoticization, even if it is not your intention.

I'm exoticizing

• Does my idea exaggerate something that I or my surroundings consider to be “different”?

By exaggerating one or a few superficial characteristics and not showing the other characteristics that contribute to the identity of a culture, you are caricaturing that culture.

• Does my concept show several cultures under the same representation?

It is important to make visible the complete identity of each culture / ethnic group with which you are collaborating. This way you avoid helping to erase their cultural background (as colonialism has done).

• Could my concept perpetuate a wrong stereotype? For example, the ethnic is primitive.

• Does my concept show the western as contemporary and the ethnic as ancient? For example, a model with European features wearing outfits from an indigenous culture. It is important to highlight the ethnodiversity of the people as well as their crafts and culture.

• Is my concept changing the representation of culture through adaptation, eclectic and / or combination?

If you don’t belong to the culture you’re drawing inspiration from, be sure to do the necessary research and innovate in collaboration with the culture. This is important because there may be things that have a certain meaning (even sacred) and tradition; therefore, they should not be decontextualized.

I'm collaborating

• I preserve in an organic and holistic way the traditions and customs of a certain ethnic group at the time of creating.

• I ask myself: Am I aware of the history of the culture from which I have been inspired? How is my culture situated within that history?

• For my project, I have consulted and collaborated with people who belong to the culture from which I have been inspired. Those people agree with the way I have represented their culture.

• If I market something that has inspired me from a culture, I am aware that my responsibility is to give credit to that culture and contribute to it in the long term.

• My concept does not place the culture from which I have been inspired in the historical past, but rather makes its current existence visible.

The purpose of this article is to share our research, experience, and open a dialogue; we want to learn together! Please do not hesitate to contact us at if you want to share any input or question.