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Lesson Plans

Re: Is that Culture with a K?

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Judith Auslander (judith)
Wed, 22 Oct 1997 16:05:24 -0700

I bow to you. Thank you for your forthright and provocative insight.
Need we say more folks? Judith wrote:

> Subject: Re: Making African Masks
> Judith asks,
> "Here you are living in Africa. What do your students think of the
> idea of us "white" folks here in the States creating our own, personal
> version of a mask or other art form not traditionally ours? Do they
> find it horrid, or are they pleased that we find their art so
> interesting
> that we would want to emulate it? Sure there will be those who say,
> "This is our art - not yours." But I would imagine that most would
> find the imitation flattery. Isn't mimicry the highest form of
> flattery?
> Judith"
> I tell my students at the beginning of class that some of the world's
> oldest art comes from the continent of Africa and has been
> instrumental in the development of modern art as we know it today.
> African as well as other students are usually surprised
> at this statement because they are so used to attitudes of domination
> which still reinforce the racist idea that some people are more
> intelligent
> and superior than others. There is also the pejorative term of
> "primitive"
> which has defined art not created by "trained" artists in an
> iconoclastic
> sense of the word, and imposed on African art in general.
> The students I teach and that I have met locally are hungry for art
> experiences. They are starving to experience the nectar of art
> and the opportunity to express themselves visually. They thirst to be
> satiated with art making. They are naked, waiting for verbal ideas to
> clothe them. The rest of it, what someone thinks about what someone
> is doing as to which culture is it from and is it appropriate, is in
> most cases, hyperbole.
> What my non-American colleagues ask is "Why are Americans so
> hung up about where a person comes from?" I think this question could
> be extended to our recent discussion about what is appropriate or
> non-appropriate related to presenting cultural art forms. Yes, there
> is a way to be appropriate. Yes, there is a way that you can be
> non-appropriate. That's what DBAE is all about. Setting standards.
> Bringing the subject of art back into art making in schools. But what
> is really behind the absolutes by which people want to draw their
> ideological line, I believe, is something that is much
> deeper than the surface discussion.
> What all of this relates to me is the issue of white privledge in
> general and how it has affected the way in which the rest of the
> world is interpreted, the assumptions behind the language we use, and
> the interpretations that people extrapolate. As far as I'm concerned,
> the "cultural" issue is mostly an issue for white people because
> the culture in general has not faced its denial of color barriers,
> the legacy of exclusion, and the institutionalism of racism.
> The aftermath of slavery did not disappear with civil rights
> legislation.
> And I feel that I have walked back in time to a worse kind of
> slavery, an economic slavery that is still color drawn. "We are poor
> because you are rich," was quoted here recently to me. And you know
> what? There's the truth in that statement.
> Most Americans have not faced up to the real tragedy, the living
> wounds, the trauma that still exists, that is inflicted daily by
> racist
> ideas, racist behaviors, racist policies and so tiptoe around these
> artificial constructs, worry about "appropriation" and other language
> which is obsfucating the real issues. Afterall, the entire American
> continent was founded on and continues to make money on cultural
> appropriation. And each of us benefits in our own way from that
> privledge and economic structure.
> So this is a long winded way of saying that no, students don't think
> it's horrid to make African masks. What is horrid is that so many of
> us are blind to the real impact our lifestyle and behaviors have on
> the
> rest of the world's people.
> Regards,
> Teresa Tipton