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Tā Moko and the Cultural Politics of Appropriation

Mika Young


With the rapid development of globalisation, issues of cultural appropriation – a topic of longstanding interest in social anthropology – have shifted and intensified in many ways. In recent decades the phenomenon has presented both challenges and opportunities for indigenous cultures across the globe to re-negotiate their cultural agency and empowerment. Grounded in the realm of cultural politics, I explore this issue through the iconic example provided by Jean-Paul Gaultier’s 2007 ‘Vogue Magazine’ campaign, in which European models were employed to display Aotearoa/New Zealand Māori tā moko while advertising clothing and sunglasses. There are several different solutions favoured by some Māori folk regarding this issue, all of which are underpinned by both opportunities and pitfalls. While I argue that solutions to issues of cultural appropriation should ultimately be led by the cultural groups who are directly affected, there is also room, I suggest, for anthropologists to play a role in this process. I envisage this to be through amplifying Indigenous voices, and by contributing to an enhanced awareness of the complexity of cultural appropriation.


cultural appropriation, tā moko, cultural agency, globalisation, cultural politics

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