As hegemonic ideologies dominate imagery produced by mainstream media, marginalized groups are often invisible or misrepresented. Consequently, growing up with futile media representation often motivates young people to carve out spaces for representation and expression. Unfortunately, often with the arrival of niches specifically designed for marginalized groups, people in positions of privilege try to appropriate those spaces in order to gain cultural capital.
The representation of the Art Hoe Movement, founded by co-curator Mars in order to “give POC a platform to express their internalized struggles,” is one example of the appropriation of spaces (Sisley). The art component of the movement entails collaging selfies or other works of art by Queer/POC over famous works of art in order to produce creative reconstructions with new meanings. In doing so, they are able to carve out a niche for self-expression, as well as make a statement about media representation. Often, we see what Meenakshi Gigi Durham refers to as “cultural hybridization,” the result of a need for alternative representations in mainstream media, or for alternative niches in social media. Durham considers the effects of hegemonic media representation in “Constructing the ‘New Ethnicities,’” when she expresses how Indian American girls “recognized a need to assert a new identity position that, in a sense, rejected the options of Indian as well as American media texts” (461). The Art Hoe Movement uses the reappropriation of famous works of art as their vessel for cultural hybridization. The rhetoric employed by appropriating the very same works of art that paved the way for exclusion makes a statement about a lack of marginalized representation as a whole. Simultaneously, the movement provides a complex space where individuals can resist their lack of representation in a critical way.
With the emergence of spaces designed specifically for marginalized groups comes the appropriation of those very spaces by people in positions of power and privilege. In an interview with The Guardian, Mars discussed how coining the movement as a “movement” was initiated when it “was getting co-opted by this little group of skinny, frail, white girls. To belong in their group, you had to have a $100 backpack, a $20 Japanese sketchbook — shit like that. When that came to my attention, we started to fight back and identify as a movement” (Frizzell). Appropriation in order to gain cultural capital is not a new phenomenon. In “Inventing the Cosmo Girl,” Laurie Ouellette writes about a similar tactic employed by Cosmopolitan, which encouraged readers to “appropriate the surface markers of cultural capital” in order to present an illusion of class. Yet, appropriation of marginalization in order to gain cultural capital is arising more frequently as commodification of feminist discourse becomes popular.
Marginalized groups who resist dominant hegemonic ideologies that permeate all aspects of their lives often do so by creating safe spaces for people in those marginalized groups. The very fact that these spaces arise is proof of how they are necessary in the context of resisting hegemonic representations in mass media. Yet with the rise in popularity of feminist discourse, comes an appropriation and commodification of that very discourse. The appropriation of marginalization in order to gain “cultural capital,” is just another reason why it is so important to establish and preserve these spaces.