24 April 2013


Makah basketry-covered lightbulb, ca. 1900, Red cedar bark, bear
grass, commercial dyes, over a lightbulb, Seattle Art Museum
I would like to propose taking one term away from you and giving you another.

"Ethnographic art" is the one I'd like to remove. In art, context is everything; however, did the people who created the works of art that end up in ethnographic museums think of themselves as "ethnographic artists"? Absolutely not. This term smacks of internalized racism—that somehow our relatives that made the baskets, masks, fish traps, or house posts are "less" than artists that work in Western genres. We have our own genres of art; we don't need some 18th–century European to tell us what's important and what isn't.

The word I would like to share with you is "ᏚᏳᎪᏛ duyugotv." I asked Ryan Mackey about the concept of the "harmony ethnic," and he did imply that that anthropological term was inadequate. Superficially the word "ᏚᏳᎪᏛ duyugotv" means in English "justice" or "truth," but more specifically "equity with gentle correction." My father said "balance" is a mathematical concept and is inappropriate to express human relations; so "harmony" is more resonate for the complex relationship between art, individuals, and society. "ᏚᏳᎪᏛ duyugotv" conveys the more subtle nuances of a community working together.

Several times I've observed conversations about terminology for Indigenous art revolve around the inadequacies of English for expressing concepts near and dear to our hearts; however, once a term in a specific Indigenous language is proposed, the conversation stops. We're tribal people, so I understand that we feel uncomfortable crossing tribal boundaries. However, I think we can span these boundaries to grasp concepts that we can all relate to. The Diné term "Hózhǫ́" is absolutely a powerful, relevant concept that we all study. I would like to propose that the Kalaallisut term "Eqqumiitsuliorneq" is also very compelling. It means "art" but more specifically it means "to create something strange," which harnesses the power of the uncanny to throw us out of our usual mindset and reassess the world around us in a fresh new way.

Why should we only embrace the words of our colonizers? We have much to teach each other.


teri said...

My mom used to sell rawhide containers in her trading post in WY that were formed around light bulbs. They almost looked like small utter/water bags. The Shoshone would break the lightbulb after the rawhide had dried and just the rawhide vessel was left. The artist who wove the basket in your image might have been using the lightbulb as a form initally but when they chose to cover the metal part and leave the glass inside, that's when they truly made "something strange"...harmony not just within a community but also between very different ones. This is a very useful conversation. Thank you.

ahalenia said...

I've seen a wild Hupa bag formed around a glass bottle shaped like a handgun. I wonder if these are examples of basketweavers trying to challenge themselves technically by following whimsical forms? But I like the concept of a basket-wrapped idea.