You came here in that Great Sun Bear? You're braver than I thought.
October 16, 2014 9:34 AM   Subscribe

In his Alliance Rebellion series, artist Scott Erikson combines two distinctive visual styles to striking effect.
posted by gottabefunky (23 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is this racist? Is it cultural appropriation? Is all art cultural appropriation? Is Native American art especially sacrosanct due to the attempted systematic genocide of the culture that created it? Are these pieces problematic due specifically to the whiteness of the creator, or would they be equally problematic if he came from a different oppressed minority? Is Star Wars a prevailing mythology of late 20th- and early 21st-century America? If someone depicted Star Wars characters in the style of the Byzantine mosaics of the Hagia Sophia, would anyone be offended? Should anyone?

Somebody answer these questions for me, please, because I don't have the foggiest idea.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:52 AM on October 16, 2014 [13 favorites]


Not sure if this guy has been selling prints in Vancouver too, but I've seen a bunch of Star Wars Haida-style stuff at this framing shop on West Broadway, too. It's kinda funny and cool.
posted by Hoopo at 9:53 AM on October 16, 2014


Hoopo, that would be neat to see (from many miles away, so I can't just drop in!).
posted by wenestvedt at 9:54 AM on October 16, 2014




Welp.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I want to see this same thing, but in a sugar skull motif.
posted by ZaneJ. at 10:27 AM on October 16, 2014


Welp.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:39 AM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


No ewoks? Ewoks are definitely West Coast.
posted by Kabanos at 10:53 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I want to see this same thing, but in a sugar skull motif.

No problem!

Also Hoopo, the Vancouver prints are the same style but definitely a different artist. I've seen them too (that was my shop of choice, back when I had things worth framing).
posted by majuju at 11:02 AM on October 16, 2014




>Is this racist? Is it cultural appropriation? Is all art cultural appropriation? Is Native American art especially sacrosanct due to the attempted systematic genocide of the culture that created it?

I'm not claiming authority on this question, but here goes:

is this racist? Is it cultural appropriation?

It's definitely cultural appropriation. This guy is digging into a culture that (AFAIK) is not his own, and that he is not especially connected to. He is obviously inspired by the appearance and the design of Haida objects, and he's lifted that "aesthetic" for use with mainstream USA culture objects. Is all cultural appropriation inherently terrible? That's a different question, and YMMV.

I don't know if I'd call it racist, but that term seems inaccurate in this context to me. I'd imagine that that point could be argued convincingly for yes or no.

Is Native American art especially sacrosanct due to the attempted systematic genocide of the culture that created it?

I think Native American art, generally, is more sacrosanct than other "aesthetics" or "motifs", but not because of the genocide angle. Generally speaking, Native arts aren't really distinguishable from other crafts, and neither exists separately from life, history, and religious beliefs. Something made by a craftsman or woman will be made to participate in the traditions of that people. The traditions of that people and their objects is not really distinguishable from their religious practices and beliefs. The people, and the land, and the objects that they make are all filled with and understood through an ~animistic/pantheistic lens, and so the making and using of things becomes a type of religious ceremony. The things that look the most like "art" through the Western lens are representational/performance based objects (like paintings or masks), and these are generally the most "spiritually powerful" or religiously focused in the Native lens. This is how you get problems like auction of the Hopi masks(FPP). Also, this generally means that the creation of "Native Style" art is closer to participation in a religious ceremony than simply taking design ideas. To go with your Hagia Sophia example, the analog would be closer to performing a Byzantine Rite, but praying to the Force and with gospel readings from the "Tales of the Bounty Hunters" book, instead of simply taking the church's design influence.
CAVEAT: I'm from the southwest, not the northwest, so I don't know how well all of this translates to Haida beliefs. I am fairly sure (80-85% confident) this I'm not way off base here.

If someone depicted Star Wars characters in the style of the Byzantine mosaics of the Hagia Sophia, would anyone be offended?

Yes, almost certainly.

should anyone?

I don't know who can answer that question. I can't.

~~~~~~~

Trying to work out all the SJW morality calculation is hard, and I don't really know what the utility of it all is. Having written this long-ass reply, I'm now not sure if I actually have a point. I mean, I think that using Haida totem motifs to make star wars leggings for hipster chicks to wear at a music festival is gross, but it's probably not any grosser than folks wearing Native American War Bonnet things at music festivals. And I really like a bunch of heavy metal art that is all about satan and stuff and is intentionally offensive to a much bigger religious community, so why the fuck should anyone listen to me anyways? Olly Moss has cooler Star Wars screenprints anyways.
posted by DGStieber at 11:12 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I thought about posting this a couple days ago but had many of the same questions Faint of Butt had, and also feel conflicted about the Cult of Star Wars, which always seems to have a naive consumer context rather than a real examination of the stories as legends. They're references, similacra, and I feel ambiguous about then rendering them in an "authentic" style.

I will say that after a recent visit to the Seattle Museum of Art, I came away with a much broader appreciation for PacNW/First Nations art (along with a bunch of amazing Aboriginal and African stuff they had at the same time), and have been thinking about how those motifs can be incorporated into other things.

(I'll also say that this dude describing himself as a "seer" gets the big o_0 from me.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:33 AM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I mean, I think that using Haida totem motifs to make star wars leggings for hipster chicks to wear at a music festival is gross, but it's probably not any grosser than folks wearing Native American War Bonnet things at music festivals.

Yeah, I think that's pretty gross and shouldn't be done too.

I mean, there are certainly examples of Native culture that we can appropriate, but the war bonnet is something that is earned by its wearer. In Plains Indians culture, it's often built out of feathers giver to the wearer as a reward for good deeds. The eagle feathers often had to be purchased from someone who had special permission to hunt eagles. The bonnet itself was earned through valiance in battle, and the wearer had to have permission of the tribal leaders to wear it. These traditions were different from tribe to tribe, and I don't mean to generalize, but the point is it's an extremely specific cultural practice with particular mean and clear proscriptions about who can wear it, and if you ignore all of these you're committing a pretty flagrant act of cultural appropriation. And considering that this is a country founded on the genocide of the Native people, and the systemic destruction of their culture, the act of taking so specific a cultural element and turning it into a fashion motif without any respect or regard for its history seems especially cruel.

I don't know much about the Haida totem. I do know totem poles were frequently associated with specific festivals and rituals of the Indians of the Pacific Northwest, and I guess I feel when something is associated with particular rituals or cultural events, that's the sort of thing one should be incredibly careful about making use of unless you are part of the group that they come from.
posted by maxsparber at 11:50 AM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think what decidedly pushes this over the line from "arguably problematic cultural appropriation" to "gross" is that at this point a public-facing artist's mashup of cultural appropriation and played out pop culture symbols can be nothing but a cash/publicity grab.

White artist intrigued by and exploring Pacific Northwest aesthetics? Probably okay. White guy cranking out more Star Wars bullshit on the aesthetic back of an entire group of oppressed peoples? Probably not.
posted by cmoj at 12:05 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is this racist? Is it cultural appropriation? Is all art cultural appropriation? Is Native American art especially sacrosanct due to the attempted systematic genocide of the culture that created it? Are these pieces problematic due specifically to the whiteness of the creator, or would they be equally problematic if he came from a different oppressed minority? Is Star Wars a prevailing mythology of late 20th- and early 21st-century America? If someone depicted Star Wars characters in the style of the Byzantine mosaics of the Hagia Sophia, would anyone be offended? Should anyone?

Yes.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:06 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Haida artist Sonny Assu, does this much better--with strong formalist reworkings of white people's appropating first nations tropes. I am uncomfortable with white people assuming that they can tell stories that are not their own, and Haida iconographies are story telling. People tend to do it to the Haida all the fucking time--and so in work like interventions on the imaginary Assu uses his visual style to talk pretty explicitly about what it means when these stories colide.

Also, if you want a more pop culture vibe, his Breakfast Seires, and his Coke Salish, are delightfully political, and v. v. funny. I want the Salmon Loops box from the Breakfast Seires desperately.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:14 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


While appropriation can be bad, I'm deeply concerned about the idea that it's inherently bad. That brings us to the notion that an artist must be limited to the styles and motifs of their own ethnic background, that before art can be engaged in the artist must prove that they are ethnically qualified to produce the art in question. And that sounds like a horrible, racist, idea.

I totally get not wanting to engage in imperialism or cultural theft.

I also totally get how trying to police that can be an utter nightmare. What distinguishes "good" use of the styles and motifs of a culture other than your own from "bad" uses of same?

I don't see a good solution.
posted by sotonohito at 6:32 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've loved NW Coastal Native American art forever, and have long considered Star Wars to not measure up to the big stink that so many people make over it, so I'm going to hope this doesn't become a big thing.

I can't say that I blame the guy, though. There's something so protean and beautiful about this style of art that it seem natural to try to make use of it in new ways, like klangklangston mentioned. It's just that this one doesn't work that well, while simultaneously reminding us of all the cultural appropriation theft that has taken place.

And klang, if you go further North next time you go North, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, Vancouver, has an amazing collection.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:48 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I also totally get how trying to police that can be an utter nightmare. What distinguishes "good" use of the styles and motifs of a culture other than your own from "bad" uses of same?

If one needs a rule of thumb, "if your ancestors stole someone's land and killed, enslaved or abused a bunch of their ancestors, do not then fucking use their styles and motifs unless they're cool with it".
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:16 PM on October 16, 2014


While appropriation can be bad, I'm deeply concerned about the idea that it's inherently bad.

Has anyone in this thread expressed the idea that it is inherently bad? I think that's a rare viewpoint even outside MetaFilter. As far as I know, nobody says white people can't wear moccasins or buy dreamcatchers, and artists like Jackson Pollock have apparently created new work inspired by Native arts (Pollack never directly credited Native influences, but admitted they might be there.) I love the song Geronimo's Cadillac by Michael Martin Murphey, which addresses Native history and clearly borrows from Native melodies.

But there is a world of differences between being influenced by something and directly recreating it. And there are things that can be recreated from Native culture and I expect very few people would complain, but anything that is an in-group cultural activity that has a history of excluding outsiders is the sort of thing you probably ought to be cautious about if you're an outsider.
posted by maxsparber at 8:53 PM on October 16, 2014


sebastienbailard: "If one needs a rule of thumb, "if your ancestors stole someone's land and killed, enslaved or abused a bunch of their ancestors, do not then fucking use their styles and motifs unless they're cool with it"."

Well, yeah, that takes care of the obvious section of the spectrum. But what about someone whose ancestors are from Africa, or Asia? What about if you ancestors are white, but from Greece or Poland or some other country that wasn't really involved in killing, enslaving, or abusing First Nations folks? What if most of your family is from China, but one great great great grandad was French?

It's the edge cases that are hard, not the middle.
posted by Bugbread at 11:39 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think the real problem is that Star Wars is the pumpkin spice of "someone on the Internet did a fun design challenge." Except it doesn't go away for 10 months at the end of November.
posted by condour75 at 5:34 AM on October 17, 2014 [5 favorites]


I've started seeing this guy at the same comics cons I do - unsurprising, since he lives in Seattle too. Most of what he's been showing at the cons is of a piece with this - drawings of various Geek Media Properties in a Haidaesque look.

I know a few people who grew up in Seattle, and I kinda have the impression that the Haida style is a thing you sort of... absorb... when you grow up here, no matter what your ethnicity. Kinda like how everyone from my home town of New Orleans picks up a bit of voodoo schtick, you know? The local football team's logo is a Haida riff/appropriation, I have friends who're very white and covered in a lot of Haida-inspired tattoos... it's complicated. It's kind of the cultural heritage of the region, and I bet it's pretty easy to just pick it up in a wholly unexamined way if you're raised here.

Also it definitely seems that the whole cultural appropriation thing is something he's aware of - from the lengthy FAQ/artist's statement:
Prior to exhibiting the work, select local members of Indigenous Tribes considered the show's purpose and images, and share in the hope that the approachability of the works spark a conversation that encourages us all to investigate together the questions the works raise afresh, and anticipate the exhibition will generate greater appreciation and support of Indigenous Tribal art, culture, and people. Though no objections were made, they cannot, nor do they ascribe to, speak for everyone. They informally welcomed 10% of the show proceeds to support Indigenous youth arts education, and recommended formal presentation of the works to Tribal elders for consideration, a conversation that will continue after the work's initial private and public debut.
Whether or not that excuses him for being a white dude drawing Star Wars stuff in a style he lifted wholesale form the indigenous people who were displaced by whites with a Manifest Destiny!!!!1! to play out, I dunno.
posted by egypturnash at 6:13 PM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


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