My mother, Helen Andersen, died in 1995 but she’s still my mother. She made this painting of an elder First Nations woman wearing a labret (lip plug) and a nose ring. I have it in my studio.
There is much stir in the news about cultural appropriation and I think Helen has something to say about it. She knew how to work with Indigenous People as subjects, without copying anyone else’s style. When she included Haida motifs, she did so to show us the subject she was dealing with and she never imitated slavishly.
For example, above you see two pieces about a mother parting with her daughter, who is being sent away to residential school … a subject Helen rendered repeatedly. In the background, we see appropriate use of cultural motifs, as Helen shows what the little girl is leaving behind … not only the comfort of her mother’s love, but her land and her whole culture.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with “appropriating” cultural motifs in this way, as First Nations artists would be the first to understand. It is objectionable to make fake copies and pass them off as equivalents to original works. Think black plastic totem poles, made in Japan, for sale to tourists at the Vancouver airport.
This is a very brief comment on a very large, complex issue, but hey, it’s Mother’s Day. I’ll probably return to the topic, later.