cultural appropriation has nothing to do with consent. just because locals or your friends of that culture assist and even support you in wearing an ethnic costume or participating in cultural activities etc. doesn’t mean what you’re doing is automatically defanged.
i recently saw an “influencer” on instagram post a series of pictures from her travels to India, one of which was of her posing in a sari—she talked about how “special” India felt, how it has “the most colour, uniqueness and personality” of all the places she’s visited and how she felt compelled to take pictures of everything she saw because it was all so “incredible”—and it just didn’t sit well with me because of the undertones of cultural exotification and fetishisation. it’s not helped by the fact that photography, especially in the context of voyeuristic travelling or “spiritual self-improvement,” can reinforce the treatment of foreign cultures as passively existing to serve and be subsumed by your personal motives and interests. like susan sontag said, “A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it–by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir.” the tone of fascination and credulous awe towards Indian society in her caption doesn’t do her performance of cultural appreciation any justice. she was being appreciative, sure, but to speak of the experience as an “adventure” that you can’t wait to “share” with people (your instagram/youtube followers), aka as part of a personal “broadening my horizons through cultural immersion” journey, is to commodify it to some extent and, by extension, to commodify the culture that you’re exploring. particularly in the context of an instagram post, it is an example of how photography is used as “one of the principal devices for experiencing something, for giving an appearance of participation… having a camera has transformed [the tourist / spectator] into something active, a voyeur… A photograph is not just the result of an encounter between an event and a photographer; picture-taking is an event in itself, and one with ever more peremptory rights–to interfere with, to invade, or to ignore whatever is going on. Our very sense of situation is now articulated by the camera’s interventions.”
this all exacerbates the problem of cultural appropriation, because it’s enabled and even facilitated by the practice of photography. it’s like you’re trying to lay claim to another reality by tokenising it. and the very ability to adopt and indulge in such a voyeuristic attitude speaks to your position in society and how it allows you to be uncritical of your actions and motives like this.