14 Mar 2018

Navigating Business: How do we ‘sell’ culture safely?


The market is changing, more and more people are looking to spend their money in a way that aligns with their values.  Fast Fashion, climate change, kiwisaver funds that invest in cluster bombs, social procurement, rainbow ticks, pay equity … none of these were things 30 years ago but they’re part of everyday conversations now and part of peoples spending decisions (#AWESOME btw).

This is freaking a whole bunch of people out, and not just in business.  It’s a cultural shift away from the established idea’s and it’s sending people searching for something with more substance, with more meaning.  It’s pushing people towards the Pacific – as well as to every other ‘indigenous’ population around the world.

And who can blame them?

Pacific cultures have been around for 1,000’s of years.  It has nourished some of the most powerful and most beautiful people in the world.  It sets out templates for how a society might exist and thrive and is validated by its longevity.

But what happens when our stories, our designs are used for profit?

Because it’s already happening.

We have Tivaivai being displayed at the Buckingham Palace; Tatau appearing on bodies all over the world; we have main stream business branding themselves with Pacific names with no connections to … anything.

We can all agree that this problematic, mainstream’s appropriation of Pacific culture – of any culture, is completely bollocks but that’s not what I’m here to discuss.

My question is: How do Pacific people safely ‘sell’ our cultural assets to the world?

Does being Pacific give you a blanket permission to commercialise parts of ourselves?  Our songs, our dance, our stories, our weaving?  Or is it still possible for Pacific people to appropriate from themselves?

Surely not, surely these things are mine to do with what I wish.  Aren’t they?

ARTWORK: One of a series of 3 entitled ‘Dear Culture Vulture’ by artists Luisa Tora and Molly Rangiwai-McHale. Acquired by Te Papa from the artists in 2014. For more information check out https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/1427657


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