From an old exhibition of craftspeople’s heritage, with skins looking strikingly formal, not unlike the art in yesterday’s post.
Posts tagged Seal.
Her work is most interesting to me, because of its added element to the traditional vs. fine art discussion as a context imposed by the Western preconception of indigenous art, just one of its many levels. As Sonya is Inupiat, the material is “traditional” - sealskin, bladders and intestines from whale and walrus - but the form is not. “Traditional” is almost entirely inclined to what the West would identify as “craft”, functional objects first and so lacking artistic value. And so it upholds an element of the cultural structure that devalues indigenous art, by saying that the true indigenous creation is “humble” and “utilitarian” - to use the Western connotations of “craft”, which contribute to the “noble savage” picture of indigenous peoples as creatures of relative intelligence dedicating effort and patience just to survive. Any other incarnation of art made by indigenous artists cannot, in the Western art world, be called indigenous, least of all “traditional.”
The form denies the other half of “traditional”, by abstracting the “traditional” material (abstract art as the “purest” or most arty form of visual art in the Western sense, as it takes in no references but itself). So the artist articulates the flexibility of the “traditional” materials and the continuity of indigenous heritage; the picture of “traditional art” is defined (by the West) as an unbroken aesthetic continuation, which is why in exhibitions of indigenous art, contemporary objects are often placed alongside ones centuries old. And so this work taps into a deeper notion of pure, aesthetic beauty that all art aspires to, certainly including indigenous art whether or not it looks like “craft”, but which the Western pretext denies of any art that self-identifies as indigenous.
Here is another photo of the school in Aasiaat. It has seals on it.