Something sacred may also be beautiful, but sometimes that leads makers of fashion and artwork to unwittingly cross cultural lines.
A pair of $940 sterling silver, hand-painted men’s cuff links depicting the Hindu faith’s Lord Ganesha at Neiman Marcus put a spotlight on a revered deity whose likeness has sneaked into commercialism a few times.
Neiman Marcus declined to comment but removed the cuff links from its website and Bergdorf Goodman’s after a Hindu leader called out the misuse of Ganesha’s likeness on the men’s jewelry. The cuff links were part of a designer collection of artistic shapes such as frogs, bananas and skulls.
Lord Ganesha, an elephant-headed deity, has made controversial appearances on many products, including a designer bathing suit, sandals, bath mats and even on a craft brew beer label in California. NFL quarterback Tom Brady reportedly has a Lord Ganesha statue in his locker, and former President Barack Obama carried a likeness with him, said Matt McDermott, a spokesman for the Hindu America Foundation.
“But in a line of cuff links that includes green frogs? That may be a cultural appropriation issue,” McDermott said. “Lord Ganesha is worshipped by 1 billion people.”
Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who supports Hinduism and other causes, sent out a statement about the cuff links and said they are “highly inappropriate.”
In Hinduism, Lord Ganesha is worshipped as god of wisdom and remover of obstacles and is invoked before the beginning of any major undertaking, Zed said.
Hindus have statues, wall carvings and paintings of Genesha in their homes but do so in a faith-filled sentiment, said D-FW Hindu Temple Society president Rajendra Vankawala.
“Ganesha has a very high value and respect in the Hindu religion,” Vankawala said. “Ganesha is not an object of amusement or fashion or to be used outside of religious purposes.”
Western cultures are used to seeing Christian and Jewish symbols in artwork, said Robert Hunt, director of global theological education at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. But it’s sacrilegious to carry a Lord Ganesha likeness around as a decoration when it represents a deity of devotion that people “hold close and love,” Hunt said. “Cuff links are a very casual use.”
Western cultures aren’t as attuned to the issue because many Christians use the cross or the fish-shaped ichthys symbol to declare their faith. While the Star of David is more complicated due to its use during the Holocaust, it also has a long tradition of being worn to identify as Jewish, Hunt said.
The problem with Ganesha is that for Hindus, it’s not part of their custom to wear it casually, he said.
Fashion companies from Gucci to Nike have also gotten in trouble with Arabic lettering. Verses from the Quran have been used to make an edgy statement, Hunt said, but sometimes the inappropriate use is less obvious. A couple of years ago, Nike was called out by Muslims after its Air Max logo design appeared to spell out Allah in Arabic script. Nike said it was unintentional.
That’s usually the case, Zed said, adding that similar incidents have occurred with Urban Outfitters and Amazon. It’s mostly out of ignorance and not intentional.
Still, Zed said, “they should do better. Before they put something online. They should have a better system.”
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