Appropriation or dispossession?

These days I spend most of my time promoting the tour of I Am My White Ancestors. Referrals to curators and non-commercial galleries are always welcome.

Appropriation or dispossession?
I have also begun to envision and research some new artwork. Like I Am My White Ancestors, these projects explore different aspects of oppressor cultures in an effort to shine a light on their limited perspectives. They also reference cultures that Europeans have colonized and oppressed.

So of course this has brought up the concept of cultural appropriation, a topic that seems to be discussed everywhere I look. This is when a person in a dominant role takes something from a non-dominant culture for their own use without permission. As a white person I can understand how this happens. We were fed messages from birth that all cultures (plus land and resources) are ours to take and asking permission or paying for that right are not needed. And other cultures are way more compelling than the familiar. So we can't tell when we are stealing.

I recently attended a lecture by curator and art historian Claire Tancons, who says she "experiments with the political aesthetics of walking, marching, second lining, masquerading and parading." She was born on Guadeloupe and currently lives in New Orleans. Since her events occur all all over the world within a range of cultures, I was pleased when someone in the audience asked about appropriation. Claire answered that dispossession is the bigger issue. But that it depends on who is appropriating and who has been appropriated from.

Eek! I was left more confused. Artists naturally use all sorts of ideas, images, and sounds as source material. When does it become dispossession? With all the recent attention paid to Scaffold, a now demolished public artwork at the Walker Center in Minneapolis that referred to a traumatic event against the Dakota people without consulting them, I was fairly paralyzed with fear of doing the wrong thing. It made me question every creative idea I had. 

Some may think my concerns are ridiculous and based on fear of criticism. That may be true. See what you think of this idea I am considering. Colonization Do Overs is a series of humorous dioramas that re-imagine the history of colonization all over the world. Picture a 17th century ship filled with sad English people leaning over the side with a huge small pox quarantine banner across the hull. Another is a required class in Forest Management for Seven Generations given to European migrants to the Wampanoag territory. Oh, and the class begins with an ax trade-in program. I honestly can't tell if this is offensive. But it helps me understand colonization better because it turns everything upside down. What do you think?

Warm wishes,