I think native art is very beautiful but it doesn’t necessarily ‘speak’ to me


Inordinately huge color photo and article on the front page of the Vancouver Sun a while ago exposing how a non-native Canuck living in Texas was making a shitload of money by creating huge Haida tattoos for the backs his clients.

The tale left me with mixed emotions and a certain judgmentalism based on the fact that I am as weary of tattoo trendiness as much as I am weary of the plethora of articles telling us everything we really didn’t particularly wish to learn about the wonders of marijuana and how it will save the world if we were not such reactionary boneheads. In other words, both tats and pot have become extremely boring due to overexposure. However, as an admirer of free-enterprise I say more power to him for exploiting the trendiness of aboriginal art (and tats) in a unique manner. Added to which his creds and connectedness to Haida Gwai are both good so I do not indict him in any way.

Indeed many of his clients are themselves aboriginal and often Haida (and tattooing is very tied in with cultural mores of coastal natives in much the same manner as it is with Pacific islanders).

All good and I admire a good sense of entrepreneurship in an economically-fraught world. If you have devised a plan to make some bucks via your own ingenuity, God love you for it.

injun stuffNow aboriginal art has become very trendy in recent years. Nothing wrong with that. Some of the masks and bowls and other artifacts are downright beautiful by any standard of esthetics. And living where I do, with a resident native population, we get a lot of totem poles, graphic art works, canoes, carvings, and jewelry. I have a Thunderbird pendant that never leaves the silver chain around my neck. It’s beautiful and I cherish it for a number of reasons, including the fact it was given to me by Wendy early in our dating lives.

And I love how native artworks and structures are so integral to the history of the Northwest and recoil at how the peoples of this coast were often robbed blind by revolting vandals who went under the guise of being missionaries for a God I could never worship; stole their art; banned the Potlatch; and sent their artistry to museums all over the ‘white’ world. Some people believe the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum were stolen. Fair enough. How about the stolen North Coast Indian artifacts in that same museum?

Yet, despite all that lengthy preamble and despite my admiration for native art, I am also ‘not’ a big fan of it. I am who I am and my background is European and the art works I gravitate to are European or European North American in inspiration.

tangagaroaWhile I might want it to be otherwise, the simple fact is: Native art doesn’t really ‘speak’ to me. Why should it? I am culturally different. I love Hawaii, as regular readers know, and admire a lot of Polynesian art as well, but it’s still not mine. It’s theirs. I have another pendant around my neck of Tangaroa, the Polynesian fertility god found in Pacific cultures. Tangaroa with his hugely evident phallus. Good naughty fun. But, he is still of ‘their’ culture.

So, when I go through a European gallery I see paintings that I can understand. When I lived in Grenoble, France for three weeks I spent a great deal of time at their civic gallery with some wonderful works. My idea of heaven would be to spend hours in the Turner rooms at the Tate. You get my drift.

So, no, there is not a lot of native-themed work on display in our home.

Chacun a son gout.

4 responses to “I think native art is very beautiful but it doesn’t necessarily ‘speak’ to me

  1. Have you visited U’mista in Alert Bay? They fought hard and were able to get their traditional masks back from the British Museum, a task which Greece has been unable to match in its quest to get the Elgin Marbles. The masks are on display, used in potlatches, and provide a testament to the strength and resolve of the ‘Namgis. Well worth the trip, highly recommend.

  2. Oh Alert Bay is very much on my bucket list, Kim. I must go. I think I had heard they got some of their stuff back. Stuff that was literally stolen. At least with the Elgin Marbles there was politics involved and the Turks gave them to Britain, though they really had no right to.

  3. There is much art that I find lovely or interesting but would never own or hang in my home as just not my style.

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