Homage or ripoff?

A story in the Toronto Star Touch has generated a lot of discussion among some artists and art lovers on Facebook this week. It seems that an artist named Amanda PL had an entire solo exhibition canceled at a gallery because indigenous people complained before it even opened that her work was too much a copy of, and therefore disrespectful of, their own art.

The article’s author does an excellent job of neutrally exploring both sides of the issue as well as that of the gallery in the middle.  Usually the “right thing to do” is clear.  But this is a tough one. I mean, who hasn’t been inspired to draw or paint something in the style of an established culture? Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by ancient Egyptian wall paintings, Haida shawl designs, Maya sculptures, Sioux beadwork, Moorish mosaics, and more. I didn’t build an art body of work around any of them, but I get why someone would. Just because you weren’t born into that culture doesn’t mean you can’t love and understand their art.

In the music world, it’s considered wonderful and creative to incorporate the rhythms and harmonies of other cultures into one’s own compositions; Paul Simon has been acclaimed for his African-inspired songs. I guess the hard part is “where do you draw the line between inspired and copied?” Where do you draw the line between tribute and disrespect?

One thought on “Homage or ripoff?

  1. I remember this article and I agreed with the decision.
    There’s a fine line between cultural appropriation and inspiration.
    As peoples that face ongoing oppression throughout the world – and so significantly in North America, Indigenous peoples have the right to protect what is sacred to their cultures. The artist is question, being non-Indigenous, used sacred Indigenous symbols in her art to which she has no traditional or historic connection.
    That’s what was so outrageous and hurtful to the Indigenous people who “complained” about her work being exhibited. These are people who have been oppressed for centuries and whose culture was, and in some cases still is, viewed as less than and/or of no value to society at large.

    If I remember correctly, even with the explanations about why Indigenous art isn’t just a style, the artist seemed not to understand the point of the upset. She even stated that she would continue to create using these sacred symbols. That, to me, is not an expression of respect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s