Saturday, April 13, 2013

Native Masks- Art?

So, I read an interesting blog piece, Dear Teachers, Native Masks are Not Art, yesterday and it got me wondering about the subject: Are Native masks art?
I threw the question out onto Twitter and got a few, limited responses, which I collected here: but I am still wondering about the issue.
I don't like Native art being appropriated by others for purposes that are not proper, whatever that means (and I say that sincerely; the decision-makers on the propriety of such things seems to be arbitrary and contradictory).  As Flora states in my storify above, it is a fine line.  I am respectful of the sanctity of masks used for ceremonial purposes, but I am also conscious of the fact that masks are made by Native artists for the purposes of retail.  I think that masks made specifically for ceremony should remain such, but I don't think I should be disallowed, as an art teacher (and Native to boot) from choosing to make masks in a Native design.  If I am making a mask, I am not making a colour the paper and then cut it out.  I am not specifically making the mask, or teaching my students, for a ceremony.  Rather I am looking at the artistic merit and encouraging my students to create and respect.
This is an academic question, of course, I lack the skill to make masks well and would be nervous trusting my skill teaching students to safely use carving tools in their creativity.  What are your thoughts on this subject? Appropriate or inappropriate?  Please feel free to leave a comment below or on my Twiitter, I look forward to hearing what you think of this.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Robert,

    Based on what you've said, a mask-making activity led by you would be far different than what most art teachers or classroom teachers would be doing.

    It is a tough call, and one that people will do/not do as they choose, but for those who want to step back, there are things they can do that don't clearly drop them into areas that may be problematic. I'm thinking (as I said in my post) about utilitarian objects.

    I skimmed the Storify and will go to it again... I'm curious about the reference to TOUCHING SPIRIT BEAR. That particular story is really problematic in its misrepresentation of social justice. I've written about it several times, as has a Tlingit elder. Why was it brought up in the discussion, I wonder? Is there a mask making activity that I don't recall in it?

    I'm tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo in northern NM. Born at the Indian Hospital in Santa Fe. My grandfather was Hopi. My mom is Hopi/Ohkay Owingeh and my dad is Nambe. We were raised at Nambe.

    Another thought on what-to-do in terms of teaching projects that will be beneficial... this is in line with thinking by Simon Ortiz in particular, that people love our art, or what they perceive to be our art, and our stories, but they don't much care for us as people because we make them uncomfortable the minute we say "let's talk about treaty violations" or "let's talk about tar sands" etc. For the well being of the world--literally--we need allies, people who "love" us to stop loving us and work WITH us in terms of political issues that are impacting all of us. A better art project, than making a mask, then, could be to have the students study a tribe/nation and make artistic presentations of something they're dealing with. Remember when the Makah were under attack for their first whale hunt? Students could do research on that and make some kind of representation of that struggle. Greenpeace activists carried signs "save a whale, spear a makah" --- I'm thinking about political art. What might a student in your class come up with that exposes that kind of hate?