An art gallery in Toronto canceled a scheduled exhibit of a Canadian artist’s work after she was accused of committing “cultural genocide” against indigenous people with her paintings.
The artist, Amanda PL, told CBC Toronto that she “tried to learn all she could about the Aboriginal culture, their teachings, their stories” and “capture the beauty of the art style and make it [her] own by drawing upon elements of nature within Canada that have meaning to me.”
Sounds nice, right? Learning about another culture, and appreciating it enough to want to include it in your own work in a special way? Well, according to critics, “nice” is not the right word; a better one might be something like “murderous.”
“What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking [indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau’s] stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road,” Chippewa artist Jay Soule said, according to CBC. “Other people will see her work and they’ll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it.”
Yes — Amanda PL’s paintings were apparently not just “insensitive” or “cultural appropriation,” but full-on, all-out genocide.
Okay, here’s my take: If you are going to tell me that any single art show could be guilty of literally murdering an entire culture, then I’m going to tell you probably not.
It would be one thing if Amanda PL had claimed that her art was aboriginal art. It would be one thing if, as a Canadian, she had claimed this culture as her own, and presented her art as if it were a representation of something created by an indigenous person. But she didn’t do that. She simply appreciated and incorporated an outside influence, and specifically, explicitly stated that she was a person from outside of the culture incorporating elements of it through her work, and doing so after careful research.
Should no one else have ever painted at all, for fear of cultural appropriation?
Seriously, what more can people ask than that in terms of cultural sensitivity? Must they completely avoid ever incorporating an influence of a culture other than their own? Because sorry, that’s kind of impossible. Humanity is far from new, and at this point, pretty much anything you could create runs the risk of having some ancient origin in a culture other than your own. And how far would you take it? I mean, who made the first painting? Someone, somewhere, from some culture was the first person to have the idea of “painting,” and all of its subsequent styles have since developed from there. Should no one else have ever painted at all, for fear of cultural appropriation?
Or — or – we could acknowledge that it’s both natural and wonderful for cultures to influence each other over time and decide to live in a society that focuses on encouraging artistic freedom instead of suppressing it.