Recently, a lot of my Facebook friends have been sharing this story:
Toronto gallery cancels show after concerns artist ‘bastardizes’ Indigenous art
I find myself torn on allegations of cultural appropriation, both in general and in this case. I have a great deal of empathy and respect for native people, and want to be an ally in their struggles.
I’m also often inspired by their artwork, but I’ve avoided it because of those feelings, and the very real fear of being slammed with this kind of accusation. However, I do a lot of Egyptian and Hindu symbols in my art, never thought about it until recently, and have never been accused of appropriation. Why is that?
Here is an interesting take on this subject:
I’m not a fan of everything this YouTuber says, but I think her argument holds weight. After watching this video, and finding the arguments compelling, I have decided that “cultural appropriation” only truly applies when the artist/individual claims to be from the culture that has inspired them. The best high-profile case I can think of that actually does appear to meet this standard is Rachel Dolezal (and I’m prepared to give her a pass as I believe she has good intentions).
If the artist (“PL”) were claiming native blood she does not possess, I’d vote guilty. But there is some gray area in this case for me. Clearly she’s more than just “inspired” by Morrisseau. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of his work can see the resemblance. It’s a bit too close for comfort for me. The gallery should have seen this coming. PL can’t claim to be surprised by the accusation either. She took native studies in school, and she didn’t expect this? It came as a shock to her? Sorry, but something smells there. The publicity has no doubt done no harm to her career. I call publicity stunt.
Soule’s argument of “cultural genocide” though is not only hyperbolic, it’s ridiculous. PL is crediting her inspiration in her artist’s statement. She’s spreading native symbolism to a group of people who might not ever have been inspired to enjoy it. If they enjoy her work, they may seek out his.
There is this idea some (many) harbor in our culture that you have to exclusively own ideas, styles or concepts in order to profit from your work, I call bull on that notion. Just because two people have very similar styles in art doesn’t mean Artist A is losing anything when Artist B makes a sale. The market is big enough for everyone. We already have draconian intellectual property rights, and not only are they stultifying our creativity, an argument can be made that this proprietary approach to ideas is a big part of what is holding the corporate power structure in place, to the detriment of all but a few who have “ownership” over certain ideas, styles, or concepts. This is just another form of that mentality, married to political correctness to give it juice, and distract from the huge holes in the argument.