Protectionism has escaped the confines of the political world and is contaminating the world of art. I cannot understand the concept that holds the view that one person, or one culture exclusively owns the right to use any given art form or technique. I love it when people of all races and cultures come together and express themselves through dance, song and music. People should be encouraged to step outside of their sphere of comfort and try something different: especially in the arts. Unfortunately this was not to be the case for Amanda PL. Amanda PL’s reward for not being afraid to explore, learn, create, and share the passion and the beauty of a diverse society, through her love of Woodland style of painting, was met with accusations ranging from cultural appropriation, to cultural genocide, because the style was made famous by, Aboriginal artist Norval Morrisseau.
Jay Soule, an Aboriginal artist accused Amanda PL of committing “cultural genocide.” “What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardization 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,” Jay said.
What a dull world this will be if the people who aspire to Jay Soule’s way of thinking win out every time like they did in this instance. Artist, dancers, musicians, singers all confined to create and express themselves only through forms inherent to their ethnic origin.
Let us be clear, Amanda’s art was not being criticized, or her exhibit cancelled, because her paintings were no good, or because she misrepresented herself. Amanda’s art was criticized and her art exhibit was cancelled, because she was White and not Aboriginal. Prejudice and fear ruined what could have been a beautiful sharing and exchange of culture.
Vision Gallery lost a chance to stand up for freedom of expression when Visions Gallery’s co-owner Tony Magee caved into the rumblings and grumblings of a prejudice, protectionist few. Visions Gallery’s co-owner Tony Magee said, “I wished I had asked PL if she was Indigenous before booking her”. Magee went on to say that he issued an apology to everyone who sent him an email complaining about PL’s lack of an Indigenous background.
Tony McGee should have talked to Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King), before taking the action that he did. Chief Lady Bird, is an Anishnaabe artist based in Toronto and she said, “From my point of view, authentic indigenous art comes from a place of our experiences, our personal narratives.” “The thing about the type of work that she is creating, is it is heavily rooted in traditional ideals and different teachings and it is considered sacred, so it wasn’t always even considered artwork in the way that we think about art now.” “Could not this be said of all art in all cultures?” “Are we not all in some way guilty of cultural appropriation?”
I for one believe that Amanda PL was telling the truth when she said, “I just tried to learn all I could about the Aboriginal culture, their teachings, their stories, and I’ve tried to capture the beauty of the art style and make it my own by drawing upon elements of nature within Canada that have meaning to me”.
There is nothing unique about North American Aboriginal art forms like, paintings, carvings, songs, or dance being used to tell a story. There is nothing unique about North American Aboriginal people considering their art forms holy. These facts have never stopped an artist from being able to use any other form or style of art that they felt inspired their creativity.
I do not understand how Canadian multiculturalism is supposed to work, if every culture is to claim that no one else can recreate anything that it claims is their cultural heritage, without being accused of cultural genocide.
“I think it’s a shame to say that an artist can’t create something because they’re not from that race,” she said. “That’s like saying any other culture can’t touch something like abstract art unless you’re white, or you can’t touch cubism art.”
I stand with Amanda PL, who said, “I think it’s a shame to say that an artist can’t create something because they are not from that race”. I am glad she has not let this unfortunate and mean-spirited treatment deter her from expressing herself in the manner that she chooses.
What will Visions Gallery do next to ensure that an oppressed peoples cultural art is not used by any other artist? Do the owners of Visions Gallery seriously think that they can demand the race of every artist that they invite to have an exhibit in their gallery? This may ensure that no one can accuse them of aiding and abetting cultural appropriation and cultural genocide, but could open them up to other criticism and not so nice charges.
If we listen and fall for the long-winded attempt by the Visions Gallery to justify its decision to cancel Amanda PL’s scheduled art exhibit, Canadians will be heading down a slippery slope, to place where freedom of expression can be cast aside to placate prejudice, fear mongering people. People afraid of an open competitive contest. People who hide behind words like cultural appropriation, cultural genocide and bastardization to monopolize a given market.
If we listen and fall for the arguments of people like Tony Magee, and Jay Soule, the only way a Canadian will be able do anything professionally without being accused of cultural appropriation, or cultural genocide, will be to:
- open restaurants and serve a menu that is rooted in their own cultural heritage;
- create and play music professionally that is rooted in their own cultural heritage;
- sing professionally songs rooted in their own cultural heritage;
- dance professionally using only moves and steps that reflect their own cultural heritage etc.
Those who took part in activity that caused the cancellation of Amanda PL’s art exhibit should be ashamed of themselves. I believe that once a culture starts to sell and teach the outside world its art forms, they can no longer claim them as:
- only theirs to profit from;
- being too holy to be used by other cultures.