In 2015, the annual MET Gala theme was China: Through the Looking Glass. In essence, the event was an exhibit of Asian inspired designs made by western designers. The MET released a description of the event, stating the purpose of the theme was “to propose a less politicized and more positivistic examination of Orientalism as a site of infinite and unbridled creativity.” The statement implies Orientalism is a conversation rather than a system used to oppress eastern cultures.
Orientalism at its core is “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” The use of American designers at an American event which targets Asian culture is doing just that – dominating and defining the culture for the Western world. The suggestion that Orientalism is a site of “creativity” implies that the culture is something Americans can play and explore with rather than a region’s way of life.
We like to believe that racism and Orientalism are things of the past, but in reality they are so deeply embedded into our culture that they become trends for the Western world to capitalize off of. The MET Gala is just one example of Orientalism in America, but its certainly one of the most blunt. Hopefully, the MET will do a better job of picking appropriate themes in the years to come.