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Jhon

Do you make controversial art?

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I have been asked by a local historical society to make 75 slave marker jugs.  I'm being told the jugs would be used for a few different projects and displays.  I'm sure some of the displays would have my information attached to them.  I have made them in my past when I worked for other potters in SC and in GA and if you do the right research you can connect me to them.

I don't mind making them, but I'm wounding what the chances are about negative press down the road.

What are your thoughts?

Have you or do you make any work that can be looked at in a controversial way?

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I think some of the most dangerous threats to the sustainability of a healthy society are censorship, suppression of voices, legislating or attempting to control artistic expression, avoidance of creativity or self-expression based on fear, inability to conduct reasoned discourse and intelligent debate, other forms of trying to remove words/images etc. that may be offensive to someone/a group.  We seem to want to re-write history, including history that did not get disclosed, or recorded accurately, in the first place. The slave marker jugs are amazing pieces and I think it is fantastic that you have an opportunity like this. 

In today's culture it has again become "unsafe" to approach difficult socio-cultural subjects.  The depth of misperception and knee-######## reactivity can be intense.  If the potential of negative press is that daunting (I assume that is essentially the fear of one's reputation being damaged), I wouldn't do the work. Personally, in the distant past I have caught some heavy-duty flak for a variety of "controversial" activities, including via art, writing & photography. It can be pretty uncomfortable!  

If I did the work I would want full disclosure, in writing, in advance, regarding the context and essential purpose/point of the projects/displays, solely in order to make an informed decision that I could stand behind if the work provoked public/publicized displeasure.  You could also explore  the option of withholding your information from the displays, via a contract agreement, if that is an acceptable compromise to both parties.  If you make them, please post some pics here!!!!

Update to my comment---note the hash tags obliterating my word! I guess auto-censor decided it is offensive (when it is not). The taboo list does not accommodate actually reading the text or the context, either.  I used the expression "knee-j*erk" . The j-word is being banned. I know the algorithm is just intended to keep ugly speech out of this group, so I do get it. It is a pleasure that this group is so polite and avoids any nastiness...but still...this just makes my point about how we seem to have to walk on eggshells these day and watch everything we say or do, or the PC police will step in. I guess it's "funny".  Sad, but funny.

 

Edited by LeeU

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I say go for it.  Cancel culture is a fad but pottery is immortal.  Sooner or later people will get bored destroying people's lives and will move onto something else.  When that happens, you might wish you had taken this opportunity.  In my eyes there is nothing controversial about making historical pieces if the context is historical.  You are making them for a historical society.  As long as their intentions are clear when you accept the deal, there is nothing really to get upset about.  I would definitely get a better list than "a few projects and displays", I'd ask for specific uses and make sure those uses fit squarely in the Venn diagram of your comfort and their needs.  

If it's just another job in your eyes, it's just another job. Take it or leave it.  If you are making them to illustrate a point or struggle, I would be sure to get on top of that because this is the perfect opportunity to showcase a cause.  I don't know exactly what a slave marker jug is, or how it may be controversial, but if it is important to a historical society, it obviously has some cultural significance, and with that a story.  

My vote is to tell the story.  Be mindful and sympathetic.

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Thank you LeeU you have brought up some great points.  I looked at your work and like your work.

Deep down it's a project I would like to do if I know there would be no backlash.  I talked to my wife about it today and she dose not want me to do it and will most likely pass on it.  She did talk me into making face jugs all next week depending on what the inventory sheets show on Saturday.

 

I do know they want to set up a temporary mock grave yard for a photo shoot for an article in a magazine.  Afterwords some would be displayed in there office and I'm sure some would be rotated out through different museum displays.

Slaves were not allowed to have grave stones.  Face jugs were made to mark the grave sites, but the jugs were made ugly / scary to keep them from being stolen and to scare off the demons.  As time went on the culture changed about them, but when I was in GA I would make them for people on request and they would be stored on display until there death where they would be used as a temporary grave marker. 

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I have been worrying about this lately.   I was raised understanding I was 12 percent native American.   I have always like primitive pottery and any type of native American art.   I have been making coiled work with Mimbres and Anazai designs for the last several years.   My sisters had their DNA 's done recently  and it turns out it is only 1 percent.   I didn't feel like a culture thief until  now,  I don't know if I should keep working with these designs or go a different direction.  The gallery I am selling at isn't concerned with this,  they think cultural theft concept is a fad.  Scratching of geometric shapes on clay has been going on since primitive people started making cooking pots and figurines for the gods all over the world.   Trading pottery and other forms of art for food and goods spread designs everywhere.   Was it cultural theft or just the love of design and beauty that the human emotions desire?     Denice

 

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1 hour ago, Denice said:

I have been worrying about this lately.   I was raised understanding I was 12 percent native American.   I have always like primitive pottery and any type of native American art.   I have been making coiled work with Mimbres and Anazai designs for the last several years.   My sisters had their DNA 's done recently  and it turns out it is only 1 percent.   I didn't feel like a culture thief until  now,  I don't know if I should keep working with these designs or go a different direction.  The gallery I am selling at isn't concerned with this,  they think cultural theft concept is a fad.  Scratching of geometric shapes on clay has been going on since primitive people started making cooking pots and figurines for the gods all over the world.   Trading pottery and other forms of art for food and goods spread designs everywhere.   Was it cultural theft or just the love of design and beauty that the human emotions desire?     Denice

 

Culture doesn't have anything to do with DNA, it has to do with how you grew and formed as a person.  If you grew up in that culture, you know and understand the art form, the reasons behind it, the meaning of it, it is not theft.  Culture theft is more like this, you see some style you like, make things that look similar, and sell them as an item of that culture for profit, without knowing why they were made.  An example would be making a Japanese tea bowl or chawan.  Do you know why they're that specific shape? Do you know what they're used for? Have you participated in a tea ceremony? Do you understand the cultural significance?  I mean if the answer to those questions is no, and you're selling your work as a chawan, there is an obvious problem there. The problem doesn't really become realized until someone from that culture sees what you made and asks you about it.

 

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For years now you have to prove your Native American ancestry to enter and show or even sell your work in many areas of the southwest.  That is why the DNA results threw me for a loop,  I know they have a percentage you have to meet,  I don't think one percent will work.   The tribes are also very critical  of anyone who uses Indian designs who isn't Native American.    Denice

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10 minutes ago, Denice said:

For years now you have to prove your Native American ancestry to enter and show or even sell your work in many areas of the southwest.  That is why the DNA results threw me for a loop,  I know they have a percentage you have to meet,  I don't think one percent will work.   The tribes are also very critical  of anyone who uses Indian designs who isn't Native American.    Denice

My broader point was that my DNA says I'm Irish but I have no connection to that culture, so if I started making traditional Irish pots, that would be theft.  

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5 hours ago, liambesaw said:

My broader point was that my DNA says I'm Irish but I have no connection to that culture, so if I started making traditional Irish pots, that would be theft.  

I think that if you made traditional Irish pots and sold them as such that may be problematic for you, but if you made traditional Irish pots and sold them as  generic pots, it wouldn't make a darn bit of difference with regard to cultural theft. 

IMO there are just so many basic forms of pottery that have been made over millennia with the primary difference being any decorative application applied or incorporated in the pot. I may have seen something that I liked in the "Aztec" pavilion at a World's Fair sixty years ago and the design registered subconsciously. Tomorrow I throw a pot and, for some reason unknown to me, that design pops into my head. So I apply the design to my piece. Am I a cultural thief? I don't think so...but if I remembered where I saw the design and promoted the pot as a piece of Aztec pottery, that might be a different story. I think the only time "cultural theft" may seriously be claimed would be if the design was proven to be an original design and was copyrighted as such.

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6 hours ago, liambesaw said:

if I started making traditional Irish pots, that would be theft

Would it? Why? Assuming you would not be claiming some long historic lineage or misrepresenting yourself or your wares in some way,  why  couldn't/shouldn't you try your hand at  making said pots? 

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3 hours ago, LeeU said:

Would it? Why? Assuming you would not be claiming some long historic lineage or misrepresenting yourself or your wares in some way,  why  couldn't/shouldn't you try your hand at  making said pots? 

I suppose I should have said making them and calling them Irish pots. 

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23 hours ago, Denice said:

I have been worrying about this lately.   I was raised understanding I was 12 percent native American.   I have always like primitive pottery and any type of native American art.   I have been making coiled work with Mimbres and Anazai designs for the last several years.   My sisters had their DNA 's done recently  and it turns out it is only 1 percent.   I didn't feel like a culture thief until  now,  I don't know if I should keep working with these designs or go a different direction.

Just because your sister's DNA results came up at 1% Native American doesn't mean that yours would be the same. Simple analogy of DNA testing results is to imagine both your biological parents gave you and your sister each a handful of change. You both got the same amount of coinage but different amounts of pennies and dimes etc. Both of you received your parents coins but the handful you each received is made up from a different percentages of each coin.

21 hours ago, Denice said:

For years now you have to prove your Native American ancestry to enter and show or even sell your work in many areas of the southwest.

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

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22 minutes ago, Min said:

Just because your sister's DNA results came up at 1% Native American doesn't mean that yours would be the same. Simple analogy of DNA testing results is to imagine both your biological parents gave you and your sister each a handful of change. You both got the same amount of coinage but different amounts of pennies and dimes etc. Both of you received your parents coins but the handful you each received is made up from a different percentages of each coin.

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

Whoa if you market things as Indian or attribute it to a specific tribe and aren't a member of a tribe (which is an actual piece of paper), your first violation carries a possible punishment of 5 years and 250,000 dollars!  And if you're a business it's 1,000,000 dollars!  Yeah, that's some crazy stiff penalties, definitely toe that line from a mile away

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19 hours ago, JohnnyK said:

I think that if you made traditional Irish pots and sold them as such that may be problematic for you, but if you made traditional Irish pots and sold them as  generic pots, it wouldn't make a darn bit of difference with regard to cultural theft. 

In an academic setting failure to properly document a source can also be proplematic.

This is obviously not academia but it strikes me as more honest to acknowledge a source than call something generic.

Even if it's just the recognition that a form or glaze or detail is inspired by a published base glaze or cultural artifact.

This is a slippery slope but a respectful appreciation seems, at least to me, a better option.

 

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I think I will go a new direction,  I just bought a metal bucket that would be perfect for smoking individual pots  in.   I should probably check and see if I have to call the fire department before I fire.  I got into trouble for that years ago but I live on the edge of town now so maybe the rules won 't be so strict.    Denice

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On 11/23/2019 at 1:06 PM, Denice said:

 My sisters had their DNA 's done recently  and it turns out it is only 1 percent.

There could be big difference between your DNA and your sisters even with the same parents.  On top of that a few times a year they change the primary data markers ancestors.  If I'm not mistaken the church of LDS was the largest ($$$$$$$) push of the DNA database and I think they still have the largest database for DNA.

The only thing I see wrong would for you to call your self or a product something that it's not.

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5 hours ago, C.Banks said:

In an academic setting failure to properly document a source can also be proplematic.

This is obviously not academia but it strikes me as more honest to acknowledge a source than call something generic.

Even if it's just the recognition that a form or glaze or detail is inspired by a published base glaze or cultural artifact.

This is a slippery slope but a respectful appreciation seems, at least to me, a better option.

 

From what I can see after doing a search for "Irish Pottery", the thing that distinguishes these pots from others is the use of shamrocks on the piece. If you leave the shamrocks off the pots, they look like they could be of any origin, hence, generic. I've made pots before that were expressions of my imagination that closely resemble some of the Irish pots without the shamrocks. So what source do I acknowledge in those cases? As I said before, the forms we create now have, in all probability, been made before with decoration being the primary difference. Does that mean we should go back thousands of years and acknowledge that a particular form should be credited to some ancient Greek or Chinese or...?

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8 hours ago, JohnnyK said:

From what I can see after doing a search for "Irish Pottery", the thing that distinguishes these pots from others is the use of shamrocks on the piece. If you leave the shamrocks off the pots, they look like they could be of any origin, hence, generic. I've made pots before that were expressions of my imagination that closely resemble some of the Irish pots without the shamrocks. So what source do I acknowledge in those cases? As I said before, the forms we create now have, in all probability, been made before with decoration being the primary difference. Does that mean we should go back thousands of years and acknowledge that a particular form should be credited to some ancient Greek or Chinese or...?

I think you might be missing the point.

A shamrock will always symbolise Ireland. To use a shamrock and not acknowledge it's heritage is a lot like not citing another authors work.

Even though made by many cultures an amphora will always be associated with ancient Greece. It seems reasonable enough to admot this.

So to answer your question yes, if a person is using a shamrock or amphora or indigenous motif they should be prepared to admit it's cultural significance.

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I've some shamrock stencils cut, but not yet used, waiting on green glaze test (kiln is cooling now!), however, likely won't be cutting thistle, rose or leek stencils - which might be in about the same class of symbol - I don't identify with'm nearly as much.

Any road, I see the shamrock as a fairly innocuous symbol, not particularly polarizing, as apposed to, well, just say "other" symbols, and it's, err, it is widely used, present day; not quite the same as plagiarism, imo. However, a bit of research and reflection when choosing symbols a good idea, agreed.

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If you folks would remember, I asked a similar question in the QotW pool last year. I am glad that it has come up again. At the same time, I have seen more concern over politically correct/incorrect art. An example would be a black boy yard statue with a rope around his neck next to a military old white man in a gray uniform. Controversial this day and age, and raising a bit of H in my area.

 

best,

Pres

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4 hours ago, Pres said:

I have seen more concern over politically correct/incorrect art. An example would be a black boy yard statue with a rope around his neck next to a military old white man in a gray uniform. Controversial this day and age, and raising a bit of H in my area.

It's disgusting that in this day and age there are still people who think it's okay to make insults and mockery of peoples race. Put that type of piece in a Museum for Racist Objects so history isn't forgotten and hopefully one day in the not too distant future our children will look at it and not comprehend it's meaning.

 

Edited by Min
clarity

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