The imagination of ‘cultural appropriation’ at the Met Gala

The first Monday of May marked the honorary Met Gala, where all eyes were glued to the celebrities walking the red carpet to ensembles of this year’s theme—Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.

However, controversy shortly ensued online where many expressed their brazen discontent in attendees ‘culturally appropriating’ catholic culture.

Image credit: The Daily Beast

Image credit: The Daily Beast

In an opinion piece from Business Insider, writer Daniella Greenbaum contrasts the lack of criticism towards Rihanna’s papal-inspired ensemble to the ‘barrage of criticism’ 18-year-old Keziah Daum received for wearing a Chinese dress to her school prom. 

Greenbaum claims that there was a double standard of what is considered cultural appropriation.

The term, ‘cultural appropriation’ has been talked about a lot recently in mainstream debates, yet the accurate definition of the term is still murky in context. 

American author of breakout bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo defines cultural appropriation as “the misuse of a group’s art and culture by someone with the power to redefine that art and, in the process, divorce it from the people who originally created it”.

Image credit: Twitter

Image credit: Twitter


For cultural appropriation to exist, an unequal dynamic in power must exist.

The Catholic church is one of the most powerful institutions in the world, which is starkly different when people of power appropriate attire from those in disenfranchised cultures.

Many others on Twitter came to argue that the Catholic church has been powerful sine its early days and have historically enforced conversion on minority groups via colonialism.

Image credit: Twitter

Image credit: Twitter


With aesthetic motifs of this religion plastered everywhere since the early history, it is evident that Catholicism is a dominant culture.

Furthermore, cultural appropriation requires a lack of consent and participation.

In regards to the Met Gala, The Vatican blessed the event with its seal of approval and loaned 40 items for the exhibition, including papal robes and accessories that have never been seen outside the Vatican.

In fact, some Catholic figures attended the event as honoury guests, such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

In an interview with SiriusXM’s The Catholic Channel, Cardinal Dolan said that he “didn’t really see anything sacrilegious”. “I may have seen some things in poor taste, but I didn’t detect anybody out to offend the church,” he said.

Despite Cardinal Dolan’s opinion, it is fair for people to think that attendees are trivialising the faith of God by wearing sacred iconography and garments offensively out of context.

However, rhetoric regarding cultural appropriation is not only senseless, but harmful to minorities that do reap the consequences of the exploitation of their own culture.


Words: Jen Qian

Stay tuned for our MBFWA updates:

Recent articles: