Saturday, December 5, 2009

Works in Progress

I went down to the clay and ceramic supply store today to pick up some new carving tools and a bag of clay. I was waited on by the listless transvestite who works there. So there's that.

This is a photo of a work in progress, the left side nearing completion, the right side just underway.

This I suppose is an overview of the act of creation:

A handful of my many tools and brushes, a biology textbook, a spray bottle that used to belong to Ellen and which now belongs to me.

This is my set of shelves, loaded with works in progress.

This is a screed type of screed. You can read it or not:

Je Je Je, estupida!

So I've recently returned to the studio and as much as I enjoy working there, there are a few things that are making me sad.

With a single exception, most of the true artists are gone. That makes me sad because I used to get such pleasure in looking at all stages of true artist's works, from lumps of clay to glorious end products. I used to get such pleasure in talking to those people, not just about their work, but also about their world views. Interesting minds bring forth interesting work.

All that is gone.

What's left is a bunch of the type of people who are bringing with them a plague of ugly beginner bowls--ten years into their pottery foray.  Yesterday, talking to Judi (she was one of the artists who left the studio), I described these people as potato-like. They look like potatoes. They make work that looks like potatoes. And there is not hope, because of the quality of their lumpy, malformed thinking, that they will ever make work that looks like anything other than potatoes.  The true salt of the earth, that type of potter.

But so what? I can soldier on and make my own work in the absence of a culture of inspiration. So that's what I do.

The other thing that makes me sad is this:

At the studio sale last weekend, a very, very white person came along and set up her table of wares to peddle. Most of it consisted of ripped-off Native American designs, crudely done. The same weekend, another white person decided that he was going to rip-off a Native American wedding vase design.


Last night, as Dave and I were leaving the studio, I made a comment to Dave about the wedding vase, citing it as an example of cultural appropriation, which I consider to be inherently racist, and someone else asked what we were talking about. I shook my head at him, not wanting to get into it with this stranger (a stranger to me, given the conditions of my exile from the studio), yet another white guy, who happens to be a friend of Dave's. Of course, it wasn't enough to put off this white stranger who piped in with a triumphant, "Well, I've done the same thing," proud that he'd also ripped off Native American culture.

I said to him, "Congratulations, then you are also an asshole."

And then Dave got pissed at me.

So, here's a few things I'd like to say about pottery, cultural appropriation, and racism:

1. When you purposefully ape (or attempt to ape) an aspect of a culture that is not yours (especially if that culture is one that has been colonized, ripped-off, devalued, decimated) and you do are it for your own gain, then you are engaging in cultural appropriation, which is racist behavior.

2. When a person of color (in this case me), calls out someone on racist behavior (such as cultural appropriation) and you defend the behavior and defend the racist? Then you are also racist.

3. If you claim that you are doing it because you appreciate the culture, well then I'd like you to read this little comment. It relates to the appropriation of Japanese culture, but I think you can make the leap:

Regarding the appropriation of Japanese culture in particular - I wonder if there is a generational aspect. I was born in 1982 and I totally grew up playing video games of Japanese origin, or watching anime series right alongside whatever American culture I consumed. At that age, I didn't really question where stuff on my TV came from. (This is not an "I'm white, I did X, can you absolve me?" post - just a statement of my experience.) As an adult, I recognize stuff from my formative years and have that nostalgic, emotional "That's mine" reaction - but as an adult it's also my job to recognize when, in a lot of senses, something really isn't.
What is so poisonous is the idea that "But I love such-and-such aspect of a culture. How can I be racist?" Well, I dunno, did white appropriation of black music end racism? In fact it frequently does precisely the opposite. By attempting to divorce the culture from the people who originated it, it is frequently an attempt to render the actual human beings in question superfluous and unnecessary. And the fact that the person engaging in this kind of cultural appropriation may have genuine feelings of happiness and affection, makes it all the harder to recognize when it becomes toxic.
So my two cents is that no, it's not automatically wrong to eat korma or watch anime or whatever. The mistake is in assuming your affection, no matter how sincere or deep, will cancel out your privilege.  --mercaque, commenter on "When Cultural Appropriation Goes Too Far" at Feministing.
See, here's the thing:

That the studio has become a hotbed for this kind of racist behavior is truly disheartening to me. There used to be several Native artists working in the studio, and I think it curtailed this kind of appropriation of Native culture. But they're gone now and the the studio is mostly a white-bre(a)d stronghold so it's almost a badge of honor to rip off Native culture.  It's like these potato people believe that they're "real" potters if they're aping some of the most talented pottery artists that the southwest has to offer. They're not. Instead they're indulging in the same kind of colonialization, racist behavior that privileged white people have been engaging in for a long, long time. And they're so engorged with their own privilege that they can't see that they're doing nothing but cranking out the shittiest form of pottery and, in the process, wrecking their own art. That's what I mean when I said above that the quality of thinking they exhibit keeps them from ever truly becoming artists.

My commenting on that to Dave led us to have an enormous fight, with Dave arguing from a kind of Stockhold Syndrome sufferer's vantage in which he defended the racist behavior and attacked me for being angry and antagonistic toward the people who perpetuate racism. Seriously. I don't know what kind of knot you have to be tied up into to defend racism, but it must be one of those Gordian types that one sees so often among racist thinkers these days.

I don't have the energy to explain why people of color get angry when they're confronted with racist behavior. (Should I have to explain this?)

Later, Dave asked me what I was going to do about it (What am I doing?? What are you doing?) and, with a sigh, I had to explain that, because I am a minority and a woman of color, even just putting myself in the situation where I am the sole person of color is my doing something about it. I'm tired of having to explain that I'm actually putting myself on the front line just by entering such a place.


I need to remind myself to go and watch this link to Jay Smooth's video "To Catch A Racist" before confronting racists. And to read Nezua's Glosario to remind myself that sanity is a real thing.

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