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Cultural Appropriation

Racist Art?

This has always been a difficult topic for me. I'm a white anglo Canadian. When I grew up it seemed that the whole world was like me. There was a black family up the street that my grandmother forbade me to interact with but other than that "race" meant things like foot race. That left me not sensitive to the experience of people of other races and cultures in white anglo culture.

The first time I encountered the idea of cultural appropriation was when I was in art school and printed an edition of cards that I tried to sell to the gift shop of a local museum. The manager smiled and said look around (it was all West Coast First Nations type work) . Come back when you have work like this. Impossible of course. Formline work looks very simple but is in fact very hard. I've tried. It's an aesthetic game played to rules that seems to me to be like the game of Go. You make a mark and then make more marks according to the rules and carry on like that 'til you're done It takes years of practice to get to be any good at it. Recently a local artist was busted for selling formline carvings. (Can't find the link) His work was good enough to sell for thousands of dollars and he was in collections all over the world. He had an elaborate fake biography that eventually tripped him up. He couldn't keep his lies straight about his past. Two points here. First the fake bio was fraud if he could only sell his work if he claimed to be First Nations. The work was actually good enough to do well in the marketplace.

Lately an award winning indigenous filmmaker, Michelle Latimer, was outed as not being indigenous by the band she claimed connection to. (start quote) "It's an insult and it's an exploitation and an appropriation of our culture, identity, community That is what Michelle is doing and she is one of many."

Latimer said she grew up in northern Ontario and that her "mother is First Nation" and that she's "always had a foot in two canoes."
https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/michelle-latimer-kitigan-zibi-indigenous-identity-1.5845310

Then there is the example of Bill Reid:
"William Ronald Reid Jr. OBC RCA (12 January 1920 13 March 1998) (Haida) was a Canadian artist whose works include jewelry, sculpture, screen-printing, and paintings.[1] Producing over one thousand original works during his fifty-year career, Reid is regarded as one of the most significant Northwest Coast artists of the late twentieth century.[2] William Ronald Reid Jr., was born in Victoria, British Columbia; his father was American William Ronald Reid Sr., of Scottish-German descent[3] and his mother, Sophie Gladstone Reid, was from the Kaadaas gaah Kiiguwaay, Raven/Wolf Clan of T'anuu, more commonly known as the Haida, one of the First Nations of the Pacific coast.[4] However, Reid was raised without knowledge of his Haida heritage due to the oppressive measures of the Indian Act.[2] When Reid was in his early twenties, he visited his ancestral home of Skidegate for the first time since he was an infant. He desired to connect with his relatives and his Indigenous identity, later commenting that "in turning to his ancestors, in reclaiming his heritage for himself, he was . . . looking for an identity which he had not found in modern western society."[2][5] In Skidegate Reid spent time with his maternal grandfather, Charles Gladstone, a traditional Haida silversmith.[2] Gladstone first taught Reid about Haida art"
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Reid

Bill Reid had a studio on Granville Island next door to Malaspina Printmakers where I printed for many years. He lectured many times at art school when I was there. I had a friend who worked in his studio as an assistant. In terms of appearance Bill Reid was white and he was raised as white but his story and connection to the Haida was solid enough that he was accepted as an authentic First Nations artist. He didn't have a fake bio like the first artist I mentioned.

For me the challenge against Latimer is more justified. She was working within the Canadian system of arts grants to filmmakers. I think that early in her career claiming to be First Nations probably made it easier to get grants.

Then there is another story about the name of the mythical monster in the Okanagan Lake called Ogopogo.
Last Monday, Vernon city council passed a motion by a 4-3 vote to relinquish the right of assigning who can use the name of Ogopogo. The copyright was given to the city in July 1956 from previous copyright holder A.G. Seabrook. The name Ogopogo is a gibberish word derived from . . . . in the the Syilx language pronounced "n-ha-ha-it-koo" meaning "something in the water," according to Chief Byron Louis of the Okanagan Indian Band, one of the seven communities of the Syilx Nation in B.C.

Louis says the mythical animal is believed to inhabit Okanagan Lake. "[For] someone else to actually say that 'I can actually own that [Ogopogo name] through my laws,' that is cultural appropriation," Louis said
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vernon-ogopogo-copyright-syilx-first-nation-1.5969084

I think that Louis' statement is bunk. Ogopogo was a made up word that is nothing like "n-ha-ha-it-koo" or . . . . . This is a time of reconciliation with First Nations in Canada. It is certainly fine that the IP rights to a name be transferred to a First Nation. (Tho it never occurred to me that the name was intellectual property). But the precedent is quite bad I think.

Recently Hawaiians have been protesting surfing as an olympic sport as cultural appropriation. I've not had the experience of watching other cultures take on activities that I think are sacred and so I don't really know how it feels. I have many things that impede that understanding. I'm not into "sacred" at all. I'm not comfortable at all with the idea of cultures or bands or tribes or anything like that having rights. Rights are a concept that applies to people living in society. It's a category mistake to apply the concept to groups.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.