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Lesson Plans

Re: sacrilage

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Teresa Tipton (
Mon, 10 Mar 1997 09:53:30 -0800 (PST)

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I think Glen has brought up an important issue. I can remember walking
through the Chicago Museum of Art with a Hopi native and the experience of
seeing South American burial artifacts with him from his point of view has
forever changed my attitude towards viewing such objects from the point of
view of their "intrinsic beauty" as Brian Foster suggests. I was stunned,
and pained to feel the violation he felt, seeing objects from a sacred
place in a display box which were taken by another culture, violating the
use and belief system of the primary culture.

Yes, Brian - there are native americans who feel their spirituality is
being sold and there are native and non-native people such as elder
gypsies who still believe taking their picture robs their spirit. Having
worked with the American Indian Movement, I met several of them.

We must be sensitive to those belief systems and not impose ours on them,
further "robbing" them of their essence. There are ceremonies we shouldn't
be imitating and objects we shouldn't be replicating, according to the
belief system of the culture. To assume that it's ok in the name of art in
another form of cultural ethnocentrism.

It's important for us as teachers and artists to discover what those are
and to treat them with the respect they deserve by not placing them in a
context which undermines their intrinisic value. When in doubt, consult
the primary source - i.e. native elders and historians - for advice.

Teresa Tipton

On Sun, 9 Mar 1997, Brian Foster wrote:

> Glen:(RE:your visit to Native American museum- and subsequent conscience attack)
> I think your sensitivity is admirable but do not let it interfere with the
> job at hand. I think SAN D stated most of the reasons we study other
> cultures. Because certain objects were originally created with a spiritual
> significance, does not make them less beautiful. The fact that many of the
> objects related to past civilizations which have survived probably owe this
> survival more to their aesthetic appeal than religious significance. Yes,
> there are vast cultural differences within the family of man and, yes there
> will always be commercialism and decorating trends which draw on "different"
> cultures.
> The down side of this is the production of cheap knock-offs and "faux"
> artwork. The upside, however, is really cool. While, during this present
> phase there is a great market for almost anything "indian"(much of which is
> made in the shadow of the Great Wall), there is a new awareness of not only
> Native American art but the various cultures which produced them. It has
> also been a boon to many Native American artists and artisans who have been
> producing fine traditional wares for centuries (these were their primary
> objects of trade) for as the market for imitations rises in volume, the
> market for originals skyrockets in price!! I don't think you will find a
> Native American artist who thinks they are selling their spirituality- just
> as there are very few people alive that believe my camera will capture their
> soul.

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