Updated: March 30, 2018 at 5:30 p.m.
The Indian Students’ Association captivated students of all backgrounds at “Culture Not Coachella: Little South Asia,” a pop-up market in Kogan Plaza late Thursday afternoon.
The three-hour event celebrated South Asian culture with a henna tattoo booth, live performances and South Asian dishes, while facilitating a discussion about the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The event was hosted as part of the South Asian Heritage Celebration, which runs through April 7.
Meera Ghetia, the finance director of the Indian Student Association, said cultural appreciation – rather than appropriation – requires understanding the history behind different aspects of South Asian culture.
“I think culture can get appropriated really easily, and we’re not trying to stop appropriation,” Ghetia said. “We’re just trying to explain things that are appropriated, so when people do want to wear bindi or want to wear henna, they understand the significance behind it.”
Kogan Plaza was packed with people on one of the first warm days of the year. Students stood in line patiently for a plate of delicious South Asian cuisine and took pictures with the George mascot. The edges of the plaza were lined with a variety of tables and booths, which highlighted different facets of South Asian culture.
Every booth emphasized an aspect of South Asian culture and tradition, focusing on how to combat cultural appropriation. There were about five types of food offered at the event, with stations serving dishes from rice with chickpeas to Masala chai. There was also a yoga booth, where students discussed the proper positions of poses and shed light on the magic of meditation.
A long line formed at the Henna booth, where two older women carefully applied masterful henna tattoos to students’ hands. The intricate designs included floral and circular patterns.
Other booths identified the ways in which certain aspects of South Asian culture are appropriated in the world.
At the media booth, posters displayed faces of stereotypical portrayals of South Asians in entertainment. Sophomore Prabhlean Kaur explained that American media misrepresents and appropriates Indian people and Indian culture in television shows and on social media.
“The idea is that for a long time a lot of these characters were the only representation we had of ourselves in the TV shows and movies we were watching,” Kaur said. “It was never the right kind of representation because they have Indian accents or were always convenience store owners.”
Kaur specified that true cultural appreciation and representation involves characters in the media that “embrace their heritage” but clarified that heritage “doesn’t define them.”
At the fashion booth, students were stationed in traditional Indian clothing. Students discussed how Indian fashion staples like the bindi, bangles and saris have been co-opted or used as accessories.
Before the event ended, the GW Raas and GW Naach dance groups electrified Kogan Plaza with live performances of South Asian dancing. Wearing flowing mint green skirts with red tunics, one group performed their routine with batons and fluid movement, which earned cheers and applause from the audience.
Once festivities were over, junior Mohmeet Singh said he was enthusiastic about the event’s turnout and overall energy.
“I think the event really symbolized the community we have here at GW,” Singh said. “Especially it being at Kogan, I saw a lot of people of all sorts of backgrounds come in, really enjoy the food, really enjoy the time they were having.”
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet misspelled a name in the photo caption. It is now correct. We regret this error.