|An Image From Amanda PL's Facebook Page|
An artist in that great bastion of free thought, free expression and new and creative thinking on social issues, Toronto, Ontario, has landed herself in a manufactured controversy over allegedly appropriating indigenous artistic traditions.
"Toronto gallery cancels show after concerns artist 'bastardizes' Indigenous art" - runs the headline on an April 28 2017 piece on CBC news Toronto.
“Outrage over a Toronto artist borrowing from the style of an acclaimed Indigenous painter has prompted a gallery to cancel its plans for an upcoming exhibit.
Visions Gallery had planned to showcase the work of Amanda PL, 29, a local non-Indigenous artist who says she was inspired by the Woodlands style made famous by the Anishinabe artist Norval Morrisseau beginning in the '60s, with a focus on nature, animals and Indigenous spirituality.
But within hours of the gallery's email announcement promoting the exhibit, there was a backlash, with people alleging that PL had appropriated Indigenous culture and art.
Chippewa artist Jay Soule was among those leading the charge. He argues PL blatantly copied Morrisseau with virtually no regard for the storytelling behind his work.
"What she's doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she's taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road. Other people will see her work and they'll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it."
If this was actual theft of intellectual property - if "Amanda PL" had obviously copied (with maybe some slight variations) Soule’s, or some other native artist's work, this would be one thing. But who can rightly claim ownership over entire artistic styles? If, for whatever reason, the 'woodlands' style – itself as much a product of the flower child era and its very western romanticist motifs as it is an authentic precolonial indigenous tradition, based on the above description - appeals to a particular artist, is it necessary to actually have native blood in order to produce it authentically?
Perhaps, but where does this line of reasoning stop? Should indigenous Canadians be discouraged from creating art in European styles ranging from classical to postmodern for lack of connection via blood lineage to the founding cultures? I hope we all know the risks of linking blood, land and culture too tightly together in this manner.
If European culture is completely open source, while the rest of the cultures in the world are protected to a degree that would make YouTube's copyright rules look lenient, who decided this? My money's on people of European descent themselves, motivated as they are by their own artistic and cultural traditions that have a centuries old tradition of elevating and idealizing foreign and primitive cultures above their own. Or else indigenous peoples who have appropriated that tradition.
Not surprisingly, Jay Soule, the native artist who raised these concerns, apparently holds himself to a laxer standard. Big surprise. "Borrowing from indigenous people is a different case altogether." It always is when preferred groups do it, isn't it? The Bride of Frankensioux? Tribe of Dracula? Sounds like a native American variation on the “blaxploitation” fad of the 1970s to me, but whatever.
Joule: "What she's doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she's taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road. Other people will see her work and they'll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it,"
Besides how flagrantly and shamefully this trivializes the very real cultural genocide indigenous peoples have suffered historically, this wouldn't have been an issue ten or even five years ago, before clickbait media and college leftists - themselves as western culture as you can get - conjured the issue of cultural appropriation out of thin air and the perpetually victimized twitter mob used it as a pretext to whip itself into self righteous hysteria, as if they needed more reasons to do that. Could Jay Soule himself be accused of “cultural appropriation” for his own shameless use of what really boils down to the fusion of postmodern academia's recent contrivances of privilege theory and intersectionality with an online media business model to highlight himself on social media?
The story – appearing in national media – just happens to mention that Mr. Joule himself is an artist, and even mentions some of his work. One wonders how much such a mention would have cost Mr. Joule had it not been in connection with a social justice themed “news” story he happened to conjure up on social media? One wonders.
Naturally, of course, the gallery caved in to the first sign of pressure. "The first thing they did in response ... was reply with an apology to every single individual who wrote with concerns, noting that they hadn't anticipated the issue." Giving the twitter mob further fuel and justification for its faux self righteousness. And this, of course, is the real problem and why stuff like this keeps happening. Plus, this is Canada and this kind of PC posturing is pretty much the state religion up here.
The story states that "there was a backlash, with people alleging that PL had appropriated Indigenous culture and art." How big a backlash? How many people? One? Five? Ten? We are not told. One wonders how big the backlash against the gallery's decision to cancel the exhibit has been, and why their opinion just doesn't count, for whatever reason?
"This just happens to be the style that I'm drawn towards at this time. This is how I choose to express myself and this is how I choose to continue to paint," PL said.
Personally, I think it's kind of gaudy, and rooted in a surprisingly recent native "culture" that comes across as contrived to capitalize on western romanticism's back-to-nature and noble savage motifs. But I don't have to like it. PL, Jay Soule and whoever else can express themselves artistically however they wants, and if it's not to my taste, I can simply not view the exhibits rather than grandstand on social media, because manufactured SJW novelty issues like cultural appropriation are all the rage, not to mention a great way to garner all the free publicity to oneself that the windmill crusaders of the social media era would care to bestow.
Also: Here and Now: Amanda PL and Jay Soule in conversation on Soundcloud. There's a good little debate in the comments as well!