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Re: [teacherartexchange] Respecting diverse cultures in the art curriculum and being willing to adapt

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From: Maggie White (mwhiteaz_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Mar 12 2006 - 19:16:27 PST


Wow, after reading all the posts on this issue, I think we all pretty
much agree we must be respectful of other cultures' beliefs. As Judy
pointed out, however, there are differences of opinion even among tribal
members. I saw this firsthand in my years on the rez. Kevan, I don't
know which tribe spoke to your district, but I doubt the representative
can speak for ALL tribes if she's making a broad statement of concern
about a diverse set of artifacts. You brought up some really good
points about the ensuing discussion. Michal, I think you CAN use
artifacts of religious significance respectfully without being
completely conversant in the culture's beliefs (I use the word "beliefs"
instead of "religion" to dodge problems with parents); you can find good
reliable information about specific items in books and the tribe's Web
site if they have one. After all, we teach Medieval, Renaissance, and
Baroque art, with all their religious analogies, without a second
thought (at least, I had no second thoughts, and I'm areligous).

Those of you who have read my many posts on similar topics know that I'm
a real stickler for making sure you name the tribe whose artifacts
you're showing, and not just describe them generically as "Native
American." I honestly don't believe that showing an image of a
katsina, totem pole, mask, or sandpainting shows disrespect for the
artifact or the culture (or the culture's religion) from which it
comes. My real beef is the seemingly well-meaning teachers whose
students are told they're going to make "Native American" kachinas or
dreamcatchers or whatever, without naming the tribes correctly, and
giving them inauthentic materials like toilet paper tubes or paper sacks
with which to make them. STUDENTS SHOULD NOT BE MAKING KACHINAS OR
TOTEMS that are simply replicating the forms and motifs of the original
culture. I have materials from the fabulous Heard Museum (of native
arts, Phoenix) in which the theme of Rain was explored and how it's been
symbolized in many SW tribes on various artifacts. The students for
whom it was written were encouraged to develop their own symbols for
something important in their lives and use those symbols on artifacts of
their own making. A more respectful and thoughtful approach, I think,
but...

I've been pondering writing an article called "Putting the 'Multi' Back
in 'Multiculture' " which I hope someday will come to fruition. I've
long advocated the doing away with the single-culture approach to
presenting art from different cultures as done in many schools
(September is Native American month...). Instead, focus on the diverse
cultures that have created masks/pottery/totems/boxes/beads/etc or the
use of found materials/fibers/clay/wood/etc. and show how a variety of
cultures have approached the work, including those working with
contemporary tools and materials. Instead of replicating artifacts, the
students should be making their own, with their own motifs. And if that
motif is from sports or the street or their music instead of the
more-romantic ancestral culture, then why shouldn't it be allowed?

Finally, Anna, I know the young woman about whom you wrote very well
(not her, specifically, but her type). The rez on which I lived
attracted a fair number of them. (An acquaintance told me the Lakota
rez garnered even more--the Dances with Wolves tribe that appealed to so
many.) These people in time usually became pretty disillusioned with
the Apaches' love of trucks and video games and satellite dishes, Old
Milwaukee, Pampers, houses with running water, and all.

Maggie

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