Rihanna cover shoot raises cultural appropriation dispute

The pop star is facing a backlash after Geisha-like images for Harper's Bazaar China are released

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 23: Rihanna attends the Fenty Exclusive Preview  on May 23, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images For Fenty)
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Rihanna has been accused of cultural appropriation after pictures from her cover shoot for the August issue of Harper's Bazaar China were released.

The cover image shows the pop star and fashion icon in a billowed blue gown. Her hair is piled high on her head in a bun decorated with miniature fans and her lips are painted in a bright red flower bud.

Other images from the same shoot were shared by Harper's Bazaar and show the star dressed in a variety of Geisha-like outfits.

On the magazine’s Instagram page, the inspiration for the shoot is described as ‘western style icon meets eastern aesthetic’. Even so, some social media users have been quick to criticise the shoot for cultural appropriation.

One user called @lynda_lou28  wrote "Culture appropriating is so wrong, really disappointed."

Other social media users have disputed the comments, stating that Riri’s latest shoot is not cultural appropriation because it is intended for a Chinese audience and was created by a predominately-Chinese production team.

"It’s BazaarCHINA for China! For goodness sake! This isn’t cultural appropriation." wrote @uhesther.

Oxford Dictionaries define cultural appropriation as 'the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.'

Different to cultural exchange, the phrase is used when people use something from another culture in a way that members of that culture would find undesirable or offensive.

For instauser @aznxtl, Rihanna's shoot is not cultural appropriation but is instead showing appreciation. He wrote “This is a prime example of showing respect to other cultures.” Dax Ramires echoes these sentiments on twitter.

In the shoot, Rihanna's hair is styled in a manner very similar to how model Karlie Kloss wore her hair in a Geisha photo-shoot for Vogue in 2017. Kloss was criticised for cultural appropriation after the shoot was published and later tweeted an apology that admitted the photographs were not culturally sensitive.

It's not the first time that Rihanna has been called out for cultural appropriation. In 2017 she was featured on the cover of Vogue Arabia wearing a snakeskin coat and blue and gold headdress in an attempt to depict Egypt's queen Nefertiti.