Ap­pro­pri­a­tion doesn’t come with­out con­se­quences

‘Crit­i­cism and con­se­quence are nec­es­sary for the proper evo­lu­tion of our art mak­ing’

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - TOR LUKASIK-FOSS Tor Lukasik-Foss is a Hamil­ton-based au­thor, writer and per­former.

Where I do take ex­cep­tion is with the as­sump­tion that artists should do th­ese kinds of ex­plo­rations in some sort of pro­tec­tive bub­ble.

RE: In de­fence of free artis­tic ex­pres­sion. (May 5, 2017)

As a white male artist still try­ing to fully un­der­stand all the priv­i­leges I en­joy in this coun­try, I had some con­cern this morn­ing with the opin­ion piece of Hamil­ton artist Laura Furster. She was de­fend­ing Amanda PL’s prac­tice of paint­ing in a sim­i­lar Wood­lands ver­nac­u­lar to that of Anishi­naabe artist Nor­val Mor­ris­seau. The opin­ion piece is one of many that I have read lately on the topic of in­dige­nous cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion; there has been a string of them con­nect­ing re­cent me­dia firestorms sur­round­ing the writ­ten work of Joseph Boy­den, an ed­i­to­rial by Writ­ers Union of Canada now ex-ed­i­tor Hal Niedzviecki, and Vi­sion Gallery’s can­celling of Amanda PL’s ex­hi­bi­tion. In­deed, there is no short­age of opin­ion on this topic.

At the heart of many of th­ese opin­ions, in­clud­ing Furster’s, is “the free­dom to ex­plore and en­joy the rich and fas­ci­nat­ing meth­ods, sto­ries, and knowl­edge con­tained in the his­to­ries of th­ese cul­tures.” In other words, artists need space and li­cence to bor­row, as­sume voice, and im­i­tate in or­der to build their own creative ca­pac­ity. As a vis­ual artist I have a hard time dis­agree­ing with that. Where I do take ex­cep­tion is with the as­sump­tion that artists should do th­ese kinds of ex­plo­rations in some sort of pro­tec­tive bub­ble, free of the con­se­quence or crit­i­cal re­ac­tions that they can in­voke. On the con­trary, crit­i­cism and con­se­quence are nec­es­sary for the proper evo­lu­tion of our art mak­ing. With­out them, we risk mak­ing art that is friv­o­lous.

When Furster states, “the Wood­lands style is just that: a style … just like Cu­bism, or Im­pres­sion­ism ...” she ne­glects the fact that each of those terms re­lates to an artis­tic lan­guage, each with sig­nif­i­cant pol­i­tics, his­to­ries and philoso­phies at­tached to them. Th­ese are vis­ual lan­guages that help change how our cul­tures think; they are very powerful things, and should be ex­plored with hu­mil­ity and rigor. In the case of in­dige­nous lan­guages and cul­tural forms it be­comes even more sen­si­tized be­cause of our coun­try’s his­toric and con­tin­ued ac­tions to con­trol, ghet­toize, co-opt and profit from it. When an artist from a dom­i­nant cul­ture draws on an in­dige­nous artis­tic lan­guage they must be equally aware to the his­tory of colo­nial­ism, geno­cide and ex­ploita­tion that con­nects to it. They also need to be aware that such artis­tic lan­guages are rooted in prin­ci­ples of re­sis­tance to that his­tory. There­fore, us­ing it risks be­ing con­strued as a provo­ca­tion, or a fur­ther ex­ploita­tion.

I also take ex­cep­tion to Furster’s state­ment that “this out­rage has its ba­sis in gut re­ac­tions, not in crit­i­cal think­ing” and in­vite her to con­sider the wealth of thought­ful in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the topic. “The Vi­o­lence of Cul­tural Ap­pro­pri­a­tion” by Crystal Mig­wans, pub­lished in Cana­dian Art (and avail­able on­line) is a good place to start, if only to prove just how metic­u­lously con­sid­ered this topic is.

One of the rea­sons I was drawn to art mak­ing was pre­cisely be­cause I could crawl into my own brain and ex­plore and ex­per­i­ment with to­tal aban­don. The very first art tra­di­tions I em­u­lated as an artist were in­dige­nous ones. I can proudly say that those em­u­la­tions were foun­da­tional to my prac­tice. What was equally foun­da­tional, how­ever, was be­ing called out on those em­u­la­tions, work­ing through my de­fen­sive­ness, and mod­i­fy­ing my prac­tice so that it is more hon­est, re­la­tional, and ac­count­able. With­out those dif­fi­cult crit­i­cal ex­changes, my art prac­tice would be empty.

TORSTAR FILE PHOTO

Toronto artist Amanda LaGrotta, who goes by Amanda PL, is at the cen­tre of the lat­est cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion con­tro­versy.

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