Imagine Catholic Appropriation... | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Imagine Catholic Appropriation…

Life&Style writer Lydia Waller takes a look back on the controversial theme from this year's Met Ball

Catholic appropriation seems like a novelty doesn’t it? Or does it? How long have Hype beast Last Supper shirts and crucifix jewellery been a part of socially acceptable fashion? It seems to go unquestioned. However, the decadent ordeal of the 2018 Met Ball theme, ‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’, has allowed such questions to surface, about whether appropriating religious symbols is appropriate in universal and high fashion. For a millennial generation allegedly concerned with political correctness and tip-toeing around cultural appropriation, the Met Ball’s theme asks if we truly are generally concerned; or do we fear misappropriation of certain cultures and religions more than others? The event would suggest a slightly more selective concern for the offense which fashion and celebrity media statements may cause in society, as

Andrew Bolton decided to exhibit his studies of religion and fashion’s relationship through adorning celebrities, such as Rihanna, in appropriated papal dress. Although the craftwork of Dolce was exemplary, the subject matter proved unsettling, as some of the most symbolic images in Christianity were exhibited as part of a high society extravaganza.

This feels marginally, if not totally, hypocritical, with the sanctification of some religions appearing to be valued as more important than others

Curator Andrew Bolton claimed that he intended to use Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism alongside Catholicism as muses for his Met Ball manifestation of cultural studies, yet he himself feared too much of an ‘imbalance’. The Telegraph even stated he dodged ‘misappropriation’ of sensitive garments, and caused offence on the red carpet by not using these religions in his theme. Bolton feared the upset of tarnishing other religious symbols with the brand of high fashion and ornamental value, yet continued to use Catholicism as his muse, citing as his reason ‘the body of the material being stronger.’ This feels marginally, if not totally, hypocritical, with the sanctification of some religions appearing to be valued as more important than others.

Lena Waithe appeared in a brilliant rainbow cape to supposedly celebrate the progression of the Church, and Zendaya sported Joan of Arc-themed attire which journalists Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton interpreted as a positive image of sainthood by a black woman, due to saint imagery being commonly depicted as white. Although these statements were celebratory, and positive to the visualisation of religion and art, the question still remains: do popular culture and celebrities have the right to comment on the progress and iconography of religion as part of a high society fashion show?

Whether the decadent nature of the Vatican caters more to the desires of Vogue and celebrity culture, to surpass themselves with something more outrageously embellished every year, it can’t be said. The Vatican had shown support for this decision to endorse ‘celebration’ of Catholicism as the central focus of this annual hype of fashion and charity, yet this support may just show the ease with which approval for appropriation of Christianity may be gained in society. Would there be such acceptance of appropriated Burkas, gemmed Dali Llamas, and mimics of the prophet Mohammed? This can’t be answered unless tested, however I can’t help but feel as though that ground would never dare be touched.

Would there be such acceptance of appropriated Burkas, gemmed Dali Llamas, and mimics of the prophet Mohammed?

The theme of religion and fashion is a wonderfully interesting topic, because of the meaning behind such dress and symbols. The interest should not, however, validate disposable trends and the appropriation of sanctified images, since such religious dress is influential mainly for the religious. The exploration of cultural cross-overs is insightful but, in the case of this year’s Met Ball, not appropriate to platform at such a high-profile event, where celebrities frequently act as figurines of expensive, and sometimes sexualised, fashion.

Some have argued that the Catholic-themed fashion gala is a brilliant celebration of religion and art, the Catholic imagery being appropriate stimuli due to controversies and scandals in the church’s history. Yet this argument seems in itself offensive, to appropriate subjective faith on the basis of issues outside of others’ control. The problematic past of religion is applicable to most faiths and institutions, and gives popular culture no right to use religious symbols of such importance, like the crucifix, in a sacrilegious fancy dress party.

The degrees of sanctification and cultural value in religious dress is too subjective and sensitive to be profiled so outrageously. Taking the decadent nature of any religion’s worship and symbolic faith for a global fashion event is inappropriate, and every symbol and religion should be regarded with equal value and respect.

Food&Drink Online Editor, English literature student.


14th June 2018 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

13th June 2018 at 5:41 pm

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