From an old exhibition of craftspeople’s heritage, with skins looking strikingly formal, not unlike the art in yesterday’s post.
Posts tagged Craft.
Effete consumer tastes often affect whether particular non-traditional materials will be taken seriously or even used, however, and the serendipity of marked demands are to some extent a result of artificially imposed categories: Fine art, folk art, Native art, contemporary art, traditional art, craft, when the appropriate view is, simply, ‘art’.
The availability of unprocessed materials for use in art production, a situation which is tied to personal and cultural relations with the land as well as the movement of the seasons, remains a factor deeply affecting Native artists today. At the intimate initial stages of production, when raw materials are gathered, weather and season are of primary concern. The procurement of materials ties Native people profoundly and directly to their region, and consequently, to artists who preceded them.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Lawrence Beck Aklak, I wok Inua maho tov Toks (Walrus spirit with labrets) (artist’s translation from Yu’pik, circa early-90s). This is lots of fun. It is from the Arts From the Arctic exhibitions catalogue (specifically from the Alaskan one) my mother got me. The Arts from the Arctic project gathered and exhibited art from Alaska, the Eastern Canadian Arctic (now mostly Nunavut), Greenland, Sápmi, and Sakha and Chukotka in Russia, touring the exhibition to locations in five of these nations over two years.
And a key theme is circumpolar artists’ opposition to Western distinctions between ‘art’ and ‘craft’. This is an excellent example. The object this derives from would have been a kind of totem in the past believed to have beneficial powers, so a utilitarian object which by Western standards would make it largely craft, opposed to fine art. Not to mention most art by indigenous people regardless of functionality is automatically defined as craft, and so somehow below ‘fine art’, either because it relies on the technical skill of the creator (which is very odd as so much of Western visual art, painting for example, up until the 20th century has been based solely on skill, and then the definition of painterly ‘skill’ has adapted to make it still mostly about ‘skill’) or just because it does not look ‘as neat’ or ‘polished’ as Western fine art. This is historically how the West interacted with almost any non-Western art, not just that made by indigenous folk.
But then this object appears to both call upon and reject notions of ‘traditional craft’. It is not mostly made of driftwood or ivory, as would have been the case historically, it uses found kitchen and bathroom parts, but then some slim bits of carved ivory on either side. So it does not really reject but challenge notions of ‘traditional’ and ‘craft’, by saying that modern media can be used in a ‘traditional’ way that recalls centuries of ‘craft.’ And that the ‘skill’ of the craftsman in making the original totems this object is inspired by is analogous to the ‘skill’ of the artist in her ability to transform raw material of all sorts into something with power - protective power, for example, or the power to make analogies between past and present to illustrate a side of indigenous life today: modern and traditional.