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Pres

QotW: How do you feel about culture theft?

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Since there are no new questions in the pool, Pres will have to supply a new one again! I am on travel around Hawaii, and got to thinking about an old conversation I had with a Native American artist, while in Alaska. The conversation began with a discussion of painted symbols and imagery for totems and other objects by the North Western tribes. I was talking about teaching a lesson on aborigine art, and researching the imagery language before the lesson. This older artist was adamant that what I was doing was totally wrong, as I could never nor could my students ever understand the way  on of another culture felt about how they created specific imagery. We went on for a long time, leaving me much to think about. In the end, I gave up on those units and pursued other venues, often using examples of imagery language from around the world to try to get the students to create their own imagery language. I had decided that even though a lesson in the arts of other cultures, doing such as a teaching tool was in a sense cultural theft, or plagiarism of sorts.  Have you  thought of this, do you knowingly mimic/borrow/steal imagery from other cultures? At the other side of this, I use a lot of stamped, incised, added on imagery in my pots, and my glazes also have been at times called Asian, sometimes even tribal, but not by intent, and the imagery itself is much more personal.

So my question is:How do you feel about culture theft?

 

best,

Pres

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I feel like most cultures beyond american view this as flattery.  I know that the Japanese and Korean do.  I'm generally speaking here, but it's tourism culture in Japan to wear a kimono or participate in a tea ceremony.  I feel like it's the same thing.  Think about if you had to adhere to a certain American culture in your pottery because you're beholden to your culture.  I think it would be pretty boring and close minded.  I have seen italian videos of majolica demonstrations where they are happy to share their method and culture.  

I feel like the culture wars that are popular right now involve a vocal minority and dont truly represent popular opinion.  That said, appropriating culture is a hot issue right now, and my thoughts are all about intent.  If you're making something to purposely shortchange a culture or profit specifically on that, I don't think that's appropriate.  However if you're developing a personal style that draws inspiration from a culture, I don't think that is the same.  Basically if your intent is exploitation, bad.  If your intent is to create beautiful things, how can it be wrong.

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Pres I like your question and understand that my comments here are offered in the spirit of provocative analysis rather than attempting to invalidate the issue.  Maybe I don’t need to say this, but this topic may be emotive for some.

Theft is a pretty strong term.  Almost makes it seem like there was something private that you have taken away from the owner without permission.  I do not view cultural symbols, icons or art in this way.  They are in fact public, meant to be seen, acknowledged and interpreted by others.  

Further,  “cultural theft” may almost be a contradiction in terms.  Culture cannot be owned.  On the contrary, it is a shared construct.   Its  manifestations are an invitation from insiders to outsiders to engage and participate.  A culture’s ability to survive and thrive depends critically on its ability to be communicated and understood - and potentially adopted, or adapted - by those coming to it for the first time.   Those treating culture like a secret birthright that only the high priests can discuss are missing the point.  Success is where everyone is discussing it, learning it, sharing it.

However, since art is a primary vehicle for communcating culture, using imagery or symbols from a culture other than your own in your artwork, possibly out of (cultural) context, is risky business.   If misused, or possibly even when appropriately used, it could be misinterpreted, or seem like a cliche’, or possibly offend those who (legitimately) identify with those symbols as part of their own personal value system.  A bit akin to driving without a license, or sufficient training or experience - you probably just shouldn’t be out there.  Objects may be closer than they appear.

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I agree with Curt, above. If you are researching the art form and then presenting the topic in an accurate manner then I don't believe it is "cultural theft". The accusation of cultural theft is what is wrong  and  represents a way of thinking that is detrimental to the educational process.  

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Some 'cultural' artifacts should be considered 'sacred'.

If they represent an ethnicity's identity/theology I completely understand why people want to restrict their use - even more so for first nations trying to preserve/protect what is left of their cultural heritage.

I can only imagine what it mean to identify with symbols that go back for millenia. I was spared the whole church thing but there is a part of me that sometimes wishes for something more meaningful to hold on to. That thing would certainly become precious to me.

 

Edited by C.Banks

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1 hour ago, C.Banks said:

Some 'cultura'l artifacts should be considered 'sacred'.

If they represent a ethnicitys identity/theology I completely understand why people want to restrict their use - even more so for first nations trying to preserve/protect what is left of their cultural heritage.

I can only imagine what it mean to identify with symbols that go back for millenia. I was spared the whole church thing but there is a part of me that sometimes wishes for something more meaningful to hold on to. That thing would certainly become precious to me.

 

Just because they are sacred doesn't mean that you shouldn't discuss them, learn about them, appreciate them, etc. especially in an educational setting & putting restrictions on this is like burning books! It is censorship. How would people like it if one political group or one religion or one something or other- took over & told you what you could or couldn't look at, learn about, appreciate, etc. 

ya I woke up on the wrong side of bed and got on a soapbox this morning :( . 

 

Edited by terrim8
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As part of a Raku class that I took last fall, we were required to study the pottery and sculptures of a half dozen ancient cultures and incorporate their methods and techniques in our own work, with a twist...have it relate to our own current life and experiences. In this way we were able to interpret the ancients in a modernistic way. Were we stealing the culture of others? I think not! In fact, I think we were enhancing their cultures and bringing them into the modern world with a different interpretation...just saying...

JohnnyK

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If I remember correctly, in some Native american tribes, a family owns a dance or song or cultural element the way in the US you might own your home. To use their material in your own production on the basis of some argument that cultural elements cannot be owned would be like for someone to make camp at your house on the theory that land cannot be owned.  I have seen the work of several artists who got explicit permission from families to use their symbols in their art.

If I remember, within aboriginal cultures, the meaning of the symbols they use is largely secret. Some symbols are not secret but some are.

I think it is respectful for people to generate their own symbols or symbolic languages rather than to appropriate from a culture they admire.  Many people will overlap in the images they use, but people should attach their own meanings and avoid other people's  particularly sacred images if they mean to be respectful.

Obviously there is a great deal of art that specifically means to be disrespectful. The standards for that sort of work will be different.

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Yep- that's why I just took a walk under are cold blue sky. Lots of chickadees out there today and its time for icers. Trying to decide if I want to make one pair of shoes into permanent icers as I can install cleats into them or just get the removable kind.

People do have lots of opinions on this and there may be personal digs that I didn't want to participate in!

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1 hour ago, Gabby said:

If I remember correctly, in some Native american tribes, a family owns a dance or song or cultural element the way in the US you might own your home.

https://www.doi.gov/iacb/act

From the above link:

"The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000."

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34 minutes ago, Min said:

misrepresentation in the marketing of....in a manner that falsely suggests....

I think this (deliberate misrepresentation/falsely suggesting etc.) is the key regarding the notion of "cultural theft".  As Liam (hope I got that right) noted, intent is the primary factor.  Without the ability for people around the world to appreciate the creative expressions of various cultures, including those held to be sacred, I think we would be impoverished to the point of spiritual starvation. Whether rigid boundaries are protective,  obstructive, or aggressive, I think we lose part of our humanity by petitioning off aspects of ourselves. I find  it joyful and uplifiting to learn from other cultures, including more about my own. I was especially thrilled when, in art school, I was essentially chastized by a few instructors for making art that was "derivitive" of some famous painter or sculptor. It really tickled my fancy because I had never heard of these artists nor ever seen their work. So, all the critique did was validate my own impulse to keep on doing what I was doing and the heck with the imposition of limits without foundation. I also subscribe to Jung's notions of the "collective unconscious" and think that it is a vital life force in the expression of art, in all cultures.

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It's been happening forever.   Forgive me if some of the following is not historically perfect, my memory/interest isn't always up to this, but:

The English spent years trying to emulate porcelain; they painted blue chinese?/japanese? scenes on their wares; they copied delftware; and that's just the pottery stuff.  No doubt that every culture has been affected by every neighbouring one, or the one they invaded/were invaded by.  

Ad infinitum.

Should we now be upset by this?  Possibly, probably.  Can we change history?  Should we continue to steal everyone else's ideas?  Probably not.  Will we?

I agree with Liam,  "if your intent is exploitation, bad.  If your intent is to create beautiful things, how can it be wrong"

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I think some ideas are getting intermingled here that are not the same.

Learning about other cultures is not at issue here. No one disagrees with this.

Producing something that coincidentally resembles something else is not the issue.

Doing something because one feels, or gets richer, for it is not  adequate reason to take an action that hurts others.  When people produce knockoffs of something, say, and make a business of selling them, they do this precisely because they will be richer for it.  We need to be conscious when something that makes one group richer makes another poorer, whether you think it should make them feel poorer or not.

And the fact that something is beautiful is not adequate defense for reproducing it as ones own.  I am imagining an art forger making this case.

 

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That's not what I meant by beautiful.  If you are intentionally exploiting a culture to simply make money, that is bad intent even if it's something beautiful, maybe I used the wrong word there.  A better word would be pure?  There is a big difference of intent between inspiration and exploitation.  

A huge problem is you can't infer intent from looking at something.  There has to be context, and most of the time context is missing, especially on the internet.  

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Two mornings later...I'm doing a 180 on this topic. Maybe its the PBS documentaries I watched this weekend but I can understand the Alaskan's position on this topic now in relation to censorship or protection.  Art can easily be used out of context & perhaps  (& unfortunately ) censorship is still required in this world. Visual art is the transmission of ideas and  I firmly believe that it can be appreciated in an educational setting but the whole world is still far from rational.  

Looks like I got up on the depressing side of the bed today :(

On a brighter note, here is an article about art used rationally. https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/new-10-bill-featuring-viola-desmond-goes-into-circulation-next-week-1.4173055 You'll notice the flip side of the note includes an eagle feather.

 

Edited by terrim8
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Ya know I really think it boils down to what your're doing, not the pot. If my representation is displayed and/or sold as a pot made by an artist native to the the culture that inspired the pot then I am engaging in a deceptive way and I think could be rightfully accused of cultural theft. If I made an inspired pot and sell it as a pot made by me, honestly represented, then it's just fine. I honestly feel that what the statue above in regards to Indian Arts and craft is not regarding interpreting the style and rendering something similar, it is trying to hijack the back story that goes with a cultural piece and sell it as authentically made by an artist of that culture, that's dishonest. People by art often with as much the intent to support the artist as opposed to just wanting that pot and if your trying to fool someone who wants to by a piece of Native American pottery made by a native american then your guilty.   

I do think possibly a notation close to the work acknowledging the work as 'inspired by' might be in good form it you have a bunch of pots in a show that were inspired by a particular culture. Just so there is no misunderstanding.

Edited by Stephen

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If you know anything at all about Native American culture, you know that a 19 year old white girl running around Coachella in a feathered headdress is like dressing up as a "sexy decorated war veteran" and going to a Remembrance Day ceremony. It's super disrespectful, and it's in really bad taste. There's always going to be someone who says "hey, I don't mind looking at that," or "what's the big deal? It was meant as a compliment!" but if it's your culture and your tradition, you know more about it than an outsider. If someone says "hey, the way you're doing that is not okay!" as an outsider to that culture, you need to heed that. You don't get to tell someone else what they should or shouldn't be offended by if you have less knowledge on the subject. As an outsider to a culture, you may be well meaning as an individual, but many things have been done with good intentions that had catastrophic outcomes for the people on the receiving end.

There are some really big holdover attitudes from British colonialism to just assume that another culture's artworks, religion and traditions all carry equal weight within that culture, or that the weight placed on those things are somehow analogous to how we behave in our own. In a lot of cases, it's not true, and I think that's where white folks tend to get frustrated and confused. We lack important, accurate information, and it's a serious effort to track that information down because there's a lot less in depth information recorded about other cultures than the dominant one. So we do dumb things in the name of trying to learn about something that wind up being hurtful.

But what about artistic growth and cross-cultural influence? What about all the cross pollination that happened between China, Japan and Korea in terms of celadon development? What about blue and white ware's influence on middle Eastern ceramics? How about a more modern phenomena of European Christian missionaries going to Japan and teaching the locals about knitting, a handcraft they hadn't developed themselves yet? Japanese knitting patterns are now some of the most interesting and challenging out there, and the colours used in the yarn choices of Japanese knitting designers definitely shows a distinct sensibility from European choices.

That kind of cultural borrowing is totally okay, because no one places a religious or spiritual value on knitting. There are some interesting cultural traditions around knitting design, but the motifs that are traditional in different areas generally don't have a deeply emotional/spiritual significance attached to them. There is an active conversation being had between the two cultures. Or, in the ceramic cases above, there were some shared cultural points (Zen Buddhism throughout Asia) where people were starting from, and then taking the techniques in their own directions. 

So I suppose I think cultural inspiration is possible to do responsibly, but you have to be willing to put a LOT of work into the research and learning part in order to be properly informed. I think it's best to had some direct, meaningful contact with that culture. It ought to mean something to you personally, and not just be a cool subject you learned about in school or in a book. I think you also have to not look at the specific motifs or techniques that are being used, but look at what the artists that use them are looking at and being inspired by. You have to be able to continue the conversation that's being had in that area with your own voice and contribute something intelligent to that conversation.

Otherwise, it's like Liam says and you're just profiting off someone else's ideas, which isn't cool.

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I agree with Callie, Dreamcatchers are a good example of why you should not create art with cultural items/images specific to another culture without 1st educating yourself thoroughly . They are a disgusting, mutated abomination born of ignorance and disrespect for native culture.

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12 hours ago, shawnhar said:

disgusting, mutated abomination

Shawnhar--I understand that many contemporary dreamcatchers are just commercialized cultural rip-offs...but the depth of feeling expressed by your very strong words above makes me think I am really missing something.  Could you expand on that?  My knowledge of the item and the purposes it is traditionally used for by native peoples, is limited (i.e. Wikipedia level). I have one a neighbor gave me recently--made from a cheap craft kit--and I wanted to refuse the gift because I know it is crap---but I was too chicken to risk hurting her feelings and had no idea what I could say to "justify" a rejection of it.  Now I really want to ditch it---give me something to say that I can stand behind if she notices it is gone, other than it's tacky and badly made!! (Thx)

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They were originally used as a  protective charm by one tribe, the webbing (spider's web) was supposed to catch bad spirits.  They never had anything to do with dreams, but now every redneck within 200 miles of me claims they are 1/8 Cherokee and has one hanging from the rear view mirror, even worse, I have heard some of them say the other rednecks should't hang them from the rear view mirror because your'e supposed to have them near your bed to have good dreams. 

It's the twisted meaning, the use of the thing, that people don't care to know, that the native americans I have spoken with say it is offensive, it's like wearing a cross because you like Madonna's music.

Ironically, the placebo effect is a real thing and they probably DO have better dreams....sigh...

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1 hour ago, shawnhar said:

They were originally used as a  protective charm by one tribe, the webbing (spider's web) was supposed to catch bad spirits.  They never had anything to do with dreams, but now every redneck within 200 miles of me claims they are 1/8 Cherokee and has one hanging from the rear view mirror, even worse, I have heard some of them say the other rednecks should't hang them from the rear view mirror because your'e supposed to have them near your bed to have good dreams. 

It's the twisted meaning, the use of the thing, that people don't care to know, that the native americans I have spoken with say it is offensive, it's like wearing a cross because you like Madonna's music.

Ironically, the placebo effect is a real thing and they probably DO have better dreams....sigh...

Thank you for the explanation. I don't think I have seen a dream catcher in thirty or forty years, since everyone was doing, for example, macrame. Present day popularity may be regional.

Interestingly, the art that in Australian Aboriginal cultures is called Dream-time also has nothing to do with dreams.  It refers, rather, to a period in their ancient history, or perhaps legendary history, like creation stories.

 

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Well honestly if it wasn't for Duke Bush leaking the family's secret baked bean recipe we would all be suffering in terms of culinary knowledge!

In all seriousness though cultures all over the world have different ways of viewing aesthetic not only in their artwork but in their music literature etc.. At the same time most cultures have specific things that they take serious ownership in, some call these parts of their culture holy or sacred and so forth. These things I think should be preserved for the peoples who hold them that way. That being said what happens when someone doesn't know that some melody,  story, symbol, etc. is sacred or what if the culture has a shift in what they view as sacred? I know in my heritage many of the symbols and imagery that was once viewed as sacred by my ancestors has been highly commercialized mostly because of tourism. I didn't grow up thinking that these things were sacred in any way I just knew that they were part of my heritage and were special. I thought that that was cool. Well now I know that my ancestors were pretty serious about those patterns, symbols and so on. I admit that when I see the imagery associated with my heritage I kinda laugh to myself a little and think "they don't know what that means" but I am not upset about it. Many people's heritage is preserved through other cultures that absorb the symbolism and ideas that they admire.  There's a lot of gray area. 

Great topic Pres

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Yesterday someone presented me with an unexpected gift. I'd been driving a friend around for months because his car died with no hope of resurrection,  he had no money/no credit, and he only just finally obtained a vehicle. It was a "thank you"--a little red box he picked up at a collectables consignment shop. It has a name in gold on the bottom left, so I looked it up.  Imagine my surprise to learn it is a vintage Russian lacquered trinket box. 

However, reading further, I suspect mine is a product of cultural appropriation, as there is a flaw on the side where the lacquer is slightly split. In this case, I am OK with it being a knock-off, if it is, becasue it's still a cool box,  the 'thanks' was nice, and I learned about some art I'd never heard of.

20181116_213802sm.jpg20181116_222636sm.jpg

 

Fedoskino Pegockuho Lacquered Jewelry Box, Russian: The Three Sisters

"PEGOCKUHO" is the Russian word for "factory". The word "FEDOSKINO" is a village near Moscow, Russia and is the home of the longest standing miniature lacquer trinket box industry. The history of this artwork spans back to the 19th century and is known for its high-quality artistry and craftsmanship. These unique miniature oil paintings gained popularity and stood out with the addition of gold leaf, mother of pearl, and metallic media. Using these components helped to replicate and capture the true beauty of nature on these vintage boxes, constructed by a specialized papier-mâché process (which uses a clay primer-justifying my posting this on a ceramics board LOL/lu). 

With the opening of Russia in 1990, the art of Russian lacquer miniature painting has gained worldwide appreciation and these small treasures are highly sought after by collectors. As a result, many Russian boxes are now being produced by untrained people using inferior materials such as wood, poured acrylic, or pressed sawdust-board called argalite. These imitation lacquer miniatures are being sold on the streets of Russia and through venues like eBay. Many of these fakes have the name of one of the four villages and even the name of a well-known artist added to fool the uneducated buyer.  (Emphasis mine/lu)

 

Edited by LeeU

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12 hours ago, LeeU said:

Yesterday someone presented me with an unexpected gift. I'd been driving a friend around for months because his car died with no hope of resurrection,  he had no money/no credit, and he only just finally obtained a vehicle. It was a "thank you"--a little red box he picked up at a collectables consignment shop. It has a name in gold on the bottom left, so I looked it up.  Imagine my surprise to learn it is a vintage Russian lacquered trinket box. 

However, reading further, I suspect mine is a product of cultural appropriation, as there is a flaw on the side where the lacquer is slightly split. In this case, I am OK with it being a knock-off, if it is, becasue it's still a cool box,  the 'thanks' was nice, and I learned about some art I'd never heard of.

20181116_213802sm.jpg20181116_222636sm.jpg

 

Fedoskino Pegockuho Lacquered Jewelry Box, Russian: The Three Sisters

"PEGOCKUHO" is the Russian word for "factory". The word "FEDOSKINO" is a village near Moscow, Russia and is the home of the longest standing miniature lacquer trinket box industry. The history of this artwork spans back to the 19th century and is known for its high-quality artistry and craftsmanship. These unique miniature oil paintings gained popularity and stood out with the addition of gold leaf, mother of pearl, and metallic media. Using these components helped to replicate and capture the true beauty of nature on these vintage boxes, constructed by a specialized papier-mâché process (which uses a clay primer-justifying my posting this on a ceramics board LOL/lu). 

With the opening of Russia in 1990, the art of Russian lacquer miniature painting has gained worldwide appreciation and these small treasures are highly sought after by collectors. As a result, many Russian boxes are now being produced by untrained people using inferior materials such as wood, poured acrylic, or pressed sawdust-board called argalite. These imitation lacquer miniatures are being sold on the streets of Russia and through venues like eBay. Many of these fakes have the name of one of the four villages and even the name of a well-known artist added to fool the uneducated buyer.  (Emphasis mine/lu)

 

Well that's not really appropriation, that's just forgery.  

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