Cultural Exchange

Cultural exchange is “a temporary reciprocal exchange of representatives, students, or artists between countries, with the aim of fostering goodwill and mutual understanding”. Katherine Profeta uses this term in the chapter Interculturalism in regards to her understanding of the role of a dramaturg in a culturally diverse setting.

Profeta discusses Rustom Bharucha’s idea of uneven power among culturally diverse participants in relation to the meaning of cultural exchange. She elaborates on ideas of genuine exchange and political dominance through her research and experience as a white American dramaturg in an intercultural dance performance that was based on a collaboration between West African dancers and an African American choreographer, who wanted to “intersect the performance boundaries of multiple and very different worlds” (174). Such an endeavor can be quite complicated and it is easy to cross the boundary of what is respectful and what is not. Bharucha critiques a lot of Western artist for having an insufficient understanding and a lack of respect for the context that their intercultural piece stems from. If the work is not done carefully enough, the audience can rarely look beyond the exoticized “enjoyment of difference” (175). The creators of intercultural pieces are often coming from a place of higher power compared to people whose cultural material they are taking from, which poses a question of how meaningful is such a cultural exchange. The larger political and economic context that surrounds the entire exchange can be very different between the makers and collaborators of artistic work, which can obstruct a genuine exchange – one knows who is in the position of power and that person is also the one setting rules and making decisions (176).

The reason why the term cultural exchange resonated with me in today’s readings is that it revolved around the issues we discussed in class today where we watched a video about a white western woman making a piece about refugees for an audience coming from the position of privilege. The ethical questions raised in our class were very close to the difficulties of cultural exchange discussed in the previous paragraph. I can’t help but think about the following question – considering we see so many issues with it, is it better not to embark on an artistic cultural exchange or is it still worth a try? I assume it is still better for something to happen than taking a culturally foreign topic or issue completely off the table in terms of artistic performance. If one decides to undertake the challenge of presenting an intercultural collaboration, then one should do it with great care to ensure a genuine exchange despite uneven sites of power. Profeta continues this debate by presenting different, more optimistic views on intercultural collaboration and cultural exchange, where “dialogic performance” would be the goal (180).

Works Cited

Oxford Dictionaries "Cultural Exchange." Accessed 8 Jan 2018. Profeta, Katherine. "Interculturalism" Dramaturgy in Motion: At Work on Dance and Movement Performance. 168-209. USA: The University of Wisconsin, 2015.