25 July 2011
In a Nutshell
Why is the false dichotomy between so-called "traditional" and "contemporary" art so insidious? "Contemporary art" is art from a certain time period, usually defined as being after World War II to the present day (1945–present) or from the fall of the Berlin Wall and rise of the Internet (1989–present). It's a chronological term. "Traditional" refers to culture of one's tribe, whether religious, artistic, social, or material. Pairing these terms inaccurately places a chronological framework on tribal culture. The implication is "contemporary," usually exemplified by Western art media, materials, and messages, is "new." Therefore, "traditional," as exemplified by tribally specific, Indigenous art practices, must be "old." I've watched art forms specific to my cultural region, the Southeastern Woodlands, increase in practitioners and scope within my own lifetime. There are more Cherokee ceramic artists and shell carvers today than there were 30 years ago. Tribal arts are contemporary, tribal artists are activing contributing to and responding to current events, and our customary practices will continue well into the future.