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Cultural appropriation in pottery: a question


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Hello,

I have  question, or rather I am interested in hearing your thought about cultural appropriation in pottery. Personally, I find great joy in making tea bowls: both carving and throwing them. I do not pretend that I am a Japanese potter or that my pots and bowls are Japanese in any way, but I always try to stress that I am inspired by Japanese aesthetics. I know that tea bowls came to Japan via China and Korea, and that tea bowls from these countries look very different. I am trying to make my own teabowls, but I am having trouble with balancing: I want to make them "my own" and in that sense make contemporary bowls that borrows from the tradition. I think (at least for me) that it would be disrespectful to try and imitate Japanese tea seremony chawans, because I lack the knowledge and skill to make them properly. I am also unsure of I even should do it, even with proper training, being an European.  But then again, just making bowls and do whatever I want also could be taken the wrong way: as if I did no respect the tradition.

Do you have any thoughts on this? I have googeled this and read what I could find, but it was not that much to find. I am curious if this is a theme that comes up often or never, what in this case, Japanese potters thinks, and how to balance it all. Thank you! 

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I don't think anyone cares as long as you call it a tea bowl or bowl, and not a chawan.  My wife is Japanese and I have gone over this with her.  There are some people who get offended over this stuff, so I think it's probably smart to not market your bowls as Japanese either through name or otherwise. 

My wife's thought on cultural appropriation is that Japanese culture is very strong, and loves when it is shared and appreciated, but not when it is changed.  Like the way people use the term wabi-sabi in western culture.  For some reason in the west it has become something you assign to a mistake or something "wonky".  In her own words, you cannot describe wabi-sabi, it's something old, something new, something perfect, something imperfect, you can only know it when you see it.

As long as you don't go manipulating another culture, I think you'll be square in most people's eyes.  Never with 100% of people though.

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Thank you so much for your reply!

Yes, I agree. It would be false advertising and more to call the bowls Japanese teabowls or chawans or gaiwans for that matter. I simply call them tea bowls. 

And I also agree with your wife and I am totally sympathetic about the wabi-sabi issue. Very strange how many westerners just use it about everything with some organic quality! However, I find it a little hard to balance. I don´t want to imitate any eastern culture´s teabowls, so I make my own: they are rounder than the traditional Japanese sylindrical chawans, but not similar to the chinese either. But: I don´t want to alter anything either, and I struggle to see the limit between making a bad replica and altering the concept, if you see what I mean? 

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Hi again!

Well, yes: it is true that I have never gotten any complaints about this, but I have been worried that people still might be offended or label my work simply poor taste because the inspiration i have from other cultures than my own. It would be so sad to make these tea bowls for the next 20 years, only to find that the idea and work is disrespectful, even with my good intentions etc.

 

Thank you Bam2015!

And yes, I found the other tread. I thought it was more about the usage of words and concepts than actual forms and shapes, but very instructive nevertheless.

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Society sucks in that you have to worry about these things. It's a social media "joke",(dilemma).

No one was texting about it when the Japanese "appropriated" pieces of their culture, like the Teabowl specifically, from the Chinese, or what I make, bonsai pots. I don't even pronounce it right, since we "culturally appropriated" the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles way before "cultural appropriation" was a depressed human problem.

Life is "culturally appropriated". It just so happens that it became a really easy thing to make us further depressed over. 

It's not you, or I, making perfectly balanced pottery and calling it by its rightful name, that, as quoted in the definition, "CAN BE controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures" "CAN BE"....

What we are doing isn't part of that "can be", we are not mocking, we are not taking credit, we are not stealing . It's what's in our hearts that determine "can be". Folks who just blind believe you ARE being controversial, are just saying this to be controversial themselves, cuz they are hateful inside, and since they can't deal with their own problems, they project them onto your bowl and you.

I think it's more disrespectful to make an unbalanced bowl by a different name. Than make a perfectly balanced Chawan and call it yours. 

Truth truth, I don't even think the Japanese, or Eastern Culture in general, is ridiculous enough to even have a term for this very normal evolution of life.

That said, there are a list of Japanese words for Bonsai, like "Tachiagari", that we use because they are simply easier to use than, "the section of trunk from the soil to the first branch." Hell, there are Bonsai words that the General Japanese public don't even know exist! So when I use them, is it considered 2% culturally appropriated? See how the concept dissolves so easily? 

I looked up the appropriate...ahem... dimensions and "rules" for a Chawan before I made my third one. I've used it for ice cream, spaghetti, chili, more ice cream, cereal....

Thing is, I still have more respect for the Japanese as Humans on Earth than whoever is making you feel like you should be worried about the good nature of your inside heart.

Tell you what, if those people making you feel that, could immerse themselves in a Tea Ceremony, or even just the actual whole hearted enjoyment of  a Chawan, they would probably discontinue their use of such idiotic sideways hatred like "cultural appropriation".

Yet they are too limited. Too simple. Too stuck on themselves to really even understand what they are saying or doing.

 Make your Chawan.

Sorce

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I think it's good and fine to be contemplating on if your work is taking from another culture in a disrespectful manner and this can be the case regardless of your intent or what's in your heart. I don't think that society sucks because you want to be sensitive to the people, work, and traditions that inspired the work that you create. in fact i think society sucked when a people's culture or traditions were being taken at the pointy end of a stick. it's true that korean potters stolen from their homeland by invaders were not texting about it but i'm sure they were none too happy.

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2 hours ago, Sorcery said:

Thing is, I still have more respect for the Japanese as Humans on Earth than whoever is making you feel like you should be worried about the good nature of your inside heart.

Tell you what, if those people making you feel that, could immerse themselves in a Tea Ceremony, or even just the actual whole hearted enjoyment of  a Chawan, they would probably discontinue their use of such idiotic sideways hatred like "cultural appropriation".

Yet they are too limited. Too simple. Too stuck on themselves to really even understand what they are saying or doing.

So sit em and spin em....and make your Chawan.

...

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As  modern day potters what we make is just an extension of what came before us. Pots that where made for centuries by many cultures. What we call what we make is more about you. I am /was heavily influnced by Japanese potters. I am not Japanese and I have always just called my bowls bowls. In the last decade when selling small bowls about the size of miso bowls I refered to them as miso size and now I call them miso bowls on my order form. To the public that are still small bowls. 

I do know that it works both ways as I had a japanese customer take one of my sponge holders to Japan and give it to a potter she knew ther and he sent back to me his sponge holder after seeing mine. (it was new item for him). He sent me his sponge holder after he adapted his version. It was very different. I feel honored to be knocked off. His was completly different. Now I call mine a sponge holder and he did as well.His has no bottom for drainage  and a small panda on the side.

Edited by Mark C.
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6 minutes ago, Mark C. said:

I do know that it works both ways as I had a japanese customer take one of myself sponge holders to Japan and give it to a potter she knew ther and he sent back to me his sponge holder after seeing mine. (it was new item for him). He sent me his sponge holder after he adapted his version. It was very different. I feel honored to be knocked off. His was completly different. Now I call mine a sponge holder and he did as well.His has no bottom for drainage  and a small panda on the side.

With all due respect a sponge holder holds very little, if any, cultural significance but I appreciate what you are trying to say.

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We all know that chawan are steeped (no pun intended) in history and culture. When we choose to make those or any other culturally specific item I think we need to consider if we are practicing cultural exchange, assimilation or appropriation. We need only look at history to see the differences between the three. 

I get what Mark is saying, it is an example of an even exchange between equals, one isn't trying to subjugate the other and it is done with respect. No, a sponge holder (even one of Marks) doesn't have the history behind it that chawan have but it demonstrates the respect aspect of equals acknowledging each other.

It sounds like you have done your research into chawan and even just asking your question here demonstrates a high level of sensitivity. In regards to using a chawan for ice cream or spaghetti, isn't it the ceremony that makes a tea bowl a chawan? We don't seem to have this issue with calling a yunomi by it's name.

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Hi again and thanks again for all of your input!

Sorce, I get your point and I am in some ways agreeing, but I don´t agree that the fact that I or others think about this is depressing. It rather means that we are at a point where we take some time to reflect on these matters instead of just taking. I absolutely get that the Japanese took both the tea and teabowls from China, but that does not mean that it is right to do it again. But I appreciate your input!

I think I will go on and make my bowls. I will never brand them as "Japanese" teabowls, but again, why would I. People see the Japanese inspiration if they are interested anywway. Very happy for all of the answers and that you take your time to reflect on this with me!

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(With all due respect a sponge holder holds very little, if any, cultural significance but I appreciate what you are trying to say.)

Its not the form but the idea-think beyond the small little form but the idea no matter what the form may be. Tea bowl or whatever.

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26 minutes ago, Mark C. said:

(With all due respect a sponge holder holds very little, if any, cultural significance but I appreciate what you are trying to say.)

Its not the form but the idea-think beyond the small little form but the idea no matter what the form may be. Tea bowl or whatever.

Again, I appreciate what you are trying to say but, for me, a chawan must be considered in a much larger context than a soap-dish.

I can see why it's tempting to separate the idea of a chawan and it's form but it seems to me the idea of a chawan is very much tied to the ceremony the form is designed for.

If, as you suggest, someone modifies an idea of a soap-dish the idea, for me, fundamentally changes. The authentic soap-dish becomes a dish that holds soap.

I very much wish JBaymore could chime in here and set us all straight. He had a way of bringing clarity to a post. He is also one of the only people I know of that could approach something more than a just a bowl that holds tea.

The cynic in me also sees how, unfortunately, a 20 dollar tea-bowl might turn into a 100 dollar chawan at the turn of a phrase.

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41 minutes ago, C.Banks said:

I very much wish JBaymore could chime in here and set us all straight. He had a way of bringing clarity to a post. He is also one of the only people I know of that could approach something more than a just a bowl that holds tea.

I don't think that's going to happen. His NCECA presentation "What makes a teabowl a Chawan" is available though.

 

Edited by Min
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Of course the Japanese make world class whiskey and no one complains.  Can't call it Scotch though. 

Who decides what is offensive?  The most easily offended?  Read Fahrenheit 451 and get back to me. 

I've always thought it odd when a racial pedigree is necessary to advertise/sell your art.  If that's your thing and your clients buy into it,  swell.  In art, nothing is pure.

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7 minutes ago, CactusPots said:

Of course the Japanese make world class whiskey and no one complains.  Can't call it Scotch though. 

Who decides what is offensive?  The most easily offended?  Read Fahrenheit 451 and get back to me. 

I've always thought it odd when a racial pedigree is necessary to advertise/sell your art.  If that's your thing and your clients buy into it,  swell.  In art, nothing is pure.

Not really a racial pedigree, is it?  It's more of a culture of which you're a member.  There are actually laws surrounding this in the United States when it comes to native culture.  And I think these have been law since the 1970s, so it's not really a new or progressive thing.

If you have spent time learning and participating in a culture, you have quite a bit of latitude, mostly because you're being true to cultural traditions.  Has nothing to do with race, and saying something like that is purposefully inflammatory.  Just look at bernard leach, born and raised in Asia (Hong Kong/japan), returned to japan to teach, stayed to take up pottery and study under potters there and take part in that culture.  Is he considered a culture thief? No, he's considered a cultural ambassador and I think there's quite a bit of difference.  The honest gripe some people have is when they replicate with no knowledge, no acknowledgement of the culture and no care.  You know these people, I know these people, and while it doesn't offend me, I do think it's a bit ridiculous.

Just saw today someone post pictures of "yunomi".  Just call it a cup, what's the point of using the Japanese word, other than marketing or making it exotic?  Is it more descriptive than "tumbler"? Are you planning to sell them in Japan?  It's not bad to ask these questions of yourself when borrowing from other cultures.

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On 12/15/2020 at 5:46 PM, C.Banks said:

wish JBaymore could chime in here

This has nothing to do with cultural appropriation, but you might get a kick out of learning that what John is deeply into now (other than clay) is doing very complex in-house VFX work, for a Star Wars fan film project.  Occasionally he will post a snippet of his video work & editing process on Facebook. I asked once about the process and within the detailed description he said this: "It is a lot like ceramics in some ways. A lot of individual diverse pieces of actions need to come together...... and it takes incredible patience.  

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