Exotification, Fetishization, and Misappropriation of South Asian and Hindu Cultures
This year's Black Party on March 22 in New York City promises to be a scandal.
In a bid to give the annual gay circuit party some oomph, Black Party organizers have adopted a theme of "Passage to India or Holika Dahan with performances and aesthetics inspired by the ancient Hindu religious festival of Holi," according to Time Out magazine. The chosen theme has created a backlash amongst some South Asian communities, who say they see the Black Party's theme as offensive.
Invoking what could be described as controversial South Asian and Hindu images, the Black Party 2014 trailer posted to YouTube is titled, "A Ruined Paradise." The video, by Leo Herrara, features several images that seem to cross the line : It features a skull being blessed with a sacred ash across its forehead, what appears to be a funeral pyre along a body of water, a man smoking a pipe with an apparent subversive connotation, the colorful celebration of Holi, and, superimposed against a backdrop of a large crowd of people, who appear to be South Asians, the bold phrase "A Ruined Paradise" appears. Black Party organizers have been asked by e-mail to comment about how the South Asian culture is a "ruined paradise," along with a few other questions. Once Black Party organizers have provided a response, this post will be updated.
On Facebook, a group called SALGA NYC has created a call-to-action event against the Black Party organizer, The Saint at Large. Members of SALGA NYC have reached out to The Saint at Large to express their concerns, but the circuit party organizers refuse to back down, justifying their use of South Asian and Hindu imagery as "necessary for fetishization," according to an e-mail newsletter from SALGA NYC.
"The annual dance/performance/kink party this year has a South Asian/Hindu theme, and fetishizes several cultural icons, including Hindu deities, which we see as a larger phenomenon of exotification of South Asian symbols and dress in writing, art, henna, yoga, and other art forms and practices. While the views in our community are as diverse as our members and as such there is no singular position that reflects even the members of our board, many of us are offended at the appropriation of South Asian symbols by largely non-South Asian event-planners," members of SALGA NYC wrote on the Facebook event page.
The Black Party is an important part of the gay social calendar in New York. It's an annual celebration that takes place during an all-night binge of music, dancing, and other hedonistic activities, appealing to party-goers, who are free-thinking and uninhibited, and the atmosphere can be described as a cross between an underground disco party and the backroom of a gay club. But subculture aspects that make the Black Party so exciting is no excuse for organizers to appropriate South Asian and Hindu cultures, according to members of SALGA NYC. As a group, SALGA NYC "fully support the idea behind fetish parties, queer parties, and other forms of kink," but the group "are troubled when other queer groups marginalize, exotify and offend our community in pursuit of queering spaces."
SALGA NYC members urged The Saint at Large to "engage in active dialogue" with the South Asian community, to resolve these issues, but thus far the Black Party organizers have refused to acknowledge the cultural incompetencies of this year's theme.
The offending 2014 trailer video is currently "unlisted" on YouTube, meaning, one must have a link to it, in order to view it. But the video has been being passed around amongst activists and other concerned members of the South Asian community. A tamer, much more generic promotional video for the Black Party, this one made by BunnyZ of last year's event, is also "unlisted," but it is embedded on the Web site of The Saint at Large.
Last year, Katy Perry sparked controversy and accusations of cultural appropriation when she sang one of her songs in a geisha-inspired performance on the American Music Awards. After the discussion that followed that scandal, it's not known why Black Party organizers would move forward with a Black Party theme that obviously appropriates aspects of South Asian cultures and Hindu religious rites. And the fact that there's been prior controversy in the New York gay scene about appropriation of Asian culture that some observed bordered on racism. In 2011, gay planners were organizing a theme party called "Mr. Wong's Dong Emporium," but after the New York gay Asian community expressed their concerns, "promoters apologized and changed the name and theme of the party."
If you care to contact The Saint at Large to express your opinions about the cultural misappropriation in this year's Black Party, please send an e-mail to : firstname.lastname@example.org
Following below are some screen shots of the scandalous 2014 trailer video. A still of the funeral pyre was rejected by Photo Bucket.
Here is a screen capture showing a skull being blessed with sacred ashes across its forehead.
In this still, the colorful powder of Holi celebrations are thrown in the air.
Here, a man wearing dark sunglasses smokes a pipe in a segment that may have subversive suggestions.
It remains unexplained or unqualified why "A Ruined Paradise" would be the title of this video, or why it would be superimposed against a backdrop of a crowd of people assumed to be South Asians.
The Black Party is using a controversial video to promote its South Asian/Hindu-themed event on March 22.