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I’m an Art Therapist. Am I Guilty of Cultural Appropriation? – The New York Times

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The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on who should be allowed to find their “spirit animals.”

I work as an art therapist at a hospital, where I invited a group of patients to participate in an exercise based on the practices of several Indigenous American cultures. I led participants on a guided mindfulness journey to find their spirit animals. Afterward, we discussed the meanings of their animals, and patients drew pictures of them and put them on a totem pole. We discussed the internal individual experience and the group experience. The patients seemed to get a lot out of the session. But I am a white male, and one patient questioned whether it was appropriate for me to do this exercise. She claimed that it was an example of “cultural appropriation.” Is she right? Name Withheld

When anthropologists, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, referred to “spirit animals” — as James Frazer did in “The Golden Bough” — they were as likely to be referring to practices in the South Pacific as in the Americas. There are animal spirit-beings associated with descent groups all around the world, including in Oceanic, Asian and African cultures, and they embody various roles: guides, taboos, helpful familiars, powers to be appeased. (The particular Asante clan to which my father belonged had an animal spirit-being, the West African buffalo.) The prevalence of such spirit-beings was one reason Emile Durkheim thought — wrongly, in my view — that what he called totemism was the earliest form of religion. Then certain New Age writers, who tend to assign a hazily homogenized worldview to the many hundreds of Indigenous North American groups, adopted the term as a Native catchall. And so we have handbooks on “how to connect with your animal spirit guide” alongside manuals for using kabbalah to “make your dreams come true” and I Ching for “business strategizing.” Is it wrong to be, er, Zen about this?

Your dissenting patient assumed — as you did — that what you were up to closely resembled the practices of specific Native groups. I wonder about that. When the pedigree of a practice is prized, we overplay claims to ancestral resemblances. Yet change is a cultural constant. “Chutney,” to take a homely example, was a word long used in South Asia for certain kinds of pickled foods. Then the British arrived, with their sweet tooths and their orchard-fruit confitures, and an interesting, world-spanning syncretism arose. I’m not saying that New Age notions of “spirit animals” are a sacralized version of sweet pear chutney. But such practices often conceal what’s modern about them with spurious claims to represent some timelessly “authentic” tradition. You may be borrowing far less than you imagine.

The very concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ is misbegotten. It wrongly casts cultural practices as something like corporate intellectual property.

There’s a further wrinkle here. Suppose you took the idea that we have spirit animals not as a fable or a custom but as a fact about the world. The dissenting patient assumed that spirit animals were folklore; you, for all I know, may accept their agency as a truth claim. And when it comes to such claims, talk of appropriation isn’t appropriate.

But then the very concept of “cultural appropriation” is misbegotten. As I’ve previously argued, it wrongly casts cultural practices as something like corporate intellectual property, an issue of ownership. Where there’s a real cause for offense, it usually involves not a property crime but something else: disrespect for other peoples. Now, whatever the source of your ideas, you were using them reverently as a form of therapy. For you, I suspect, nothing could be more respectful than that.

The effort to draw and police boundaries around our cultural practices is, in the end, a mug’s game. I’m reminded of the basketball player Jeremy Lin’s response, a few years ago, when a Black N.B.A. elder reproached him for wearing locs. Lin slyly defended his dissed dreads by explaining that they — just like the other man’s Chinese tattoos — should be viewed not as cultural appropriation but as cultural appreciation.

The District of Columbia announced that masks are required for all indoor settings. But the leaders of the company I work for, which is located there, have decided that masks will still not be required in our open-plan office. They say that our desks are spaced at least six feet apart, that we have HEPA-grade air purifiers and that wearing a mask for eight hours a day would be onerous and uncomfortable. This seems to flout public-health and safety guidance.

I am not going to the office in person, but merely knowing the policy makes me feel complicit. What is my ethical obligation to report my workplace to a federal or local agency for these violations of Covid-19 protocols? Name Withheld

Washington, D.C., reintroduced the indoor-masking mandate after new guidance from the C.D.C. amid the spread of infection driven by the Delta variant. The mandate has a cogent rationale; your company’s scofflaw managers aren’t merely behaving irresponsibly toward their employees and their families (including unvaccinated children) but are weakening a norm. Their claims about the work space don’t change the situation. We aren’t entitled to ignore speed limits on the grounds that we’re especially fine drivers. Thinking that a regulation isn’t appropriate to you doesn’t give you the right to ignore it.

Nor am I impressed by the other reason your company has offered — that wearing a mask is “onerous and uncomfortable.” Spending days struggling for breath, being intubated in an intensive-care unit, even dying: Those things are onerous. For most folks, a face covering is not. People around the country have been doing their part by wearing masks all day. Compliance with public-health mandates is important, as we work to get Covid-19 under control and reduce its assaults on our bodies, our minds and our economy.

You’re right to want the company to mend its ways. That may not be easy. The mayor’s order suggests that primary responsibility for compliance lies with individuals. Every office worker not wearing a mask could, in principle, be fined up to $1,000. Because these employees have evidently been encouraged not to comply with the order, however, singling them out would seem unfair. Still, the order also threatens the suspension or revocation of licenses, which might be more of a disincentive for the company than this fine. So go ahead and report your workplace to the relevant authorities. This may or may not lead to any action on their part, and it’s unclear how vigorously the order is being enforced. Even a simple visit from a city official, though, could encourage your bosses to do the right thing.

If you’re able to talk with your supervisors without fear of reprisal, you should also consider pointing out the legal risks that they might be incurring: A company that flouted the order could be more vulnerable to a lawsuit brought by an employee who contracted Covid-19 than a company that sought to comply with the reasonable measures that your municipality has called for. In any case, I wish you luck. Some of those in the office will, I expect, already be wearing masks, simply because they are prudent about their own health and decently attentive to the risks they might be imposing on others. It would be good if they had company.


Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to ethicist@nytimes.com; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)

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Art Fx #38: "Hill Street Cushion" by Jen Manuell – Huntsville Doppler

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Art Fx is a year-long series on Huntsville Doppler featuring Huntsville-area visual artists.

“Hill Street Cushion” by Jen Manuell of Fish Eye Sisters is an 18” x 18” cushion with a pieced and quilted textile front, featuring hand-dyed wool and freeform stitching, with velvet on the backside and a Canadian-made feather-down insert.

“This is one of the cushions from my most recent collection, featuring over 80 different fabrics,” says Jen. ” The colours were inspired by a recent trip to Peggy’s Cove — especially the amazing lichen on the docks.”

Hill Street Cushion” is available online at fisheyesisters.ca for $230.

About the artist

Every cut, every pin, every stitch…every step of every Fish Eye Sisters product is designed and handmade by just me, Jen Manuell.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved playing with colour and figuring out new ways of doing things.

Combining my love of textiles and dyeing wool, my truly one-of-a-kind woollen home goods are a modern twist on tradition. Woven wool flannel is my favourite material and it features in all of my recent work. I over-dye a lot of it myself so that I can inject plenty of pattern and colour and texture into every piece. These subtle variations add so much interest.

Each piece is a unique composition. There really aren’t any duplicates or copies — they’re all original, timeless, functional pieces for your home. Everything is made with care and attention to detail in my home studio just north of Huntsville.

Find Jen and Fish Eye Sisters online at fisheyesisters.ca or on Instagram @fisheyesisters. Contact her at jen@fisheyesisters.ca.

See more local art in Doppler’s Art Fx series here.

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Penticton art exhbit explores feminism and activism – Globalnews.ca

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With every brushstroke, Karla Avendaño is honouring women and the Egyptian goddess said to look over women, Hathor.

“Women matter. It’s funny that in this century we still have to be telling people that women are an important part of society but we do. We have to remind them,” said Avendaño.

“My exhibition is about empowering women and telling the world that we are here and we are an important part of society.”

In her first solo exhibition, Hathor: Goddess of Many Things, Avendaño introduces herself through bright colours and creative scenes, while also advocating for equal rights for women around the world.

Read more:
Penticton Arts Council showcases 100 clay cats in art exhibit

“I am working on [a painting] right now and it’s called Finding My Voice,” said Avendaño.

“It’s a special piece because it’s an Afghan lady so it’s very special for me because of all the conflict that is happening in Afghanistan right now and I feel for these girls not knowing what the future is going to be.”

The artist is one of eight in residence at the Leir House Cultural Centre where she has developed her skills for the last year leading up to the exhibition.

Read more:
Penticton, B.C. photography book records pandemic, floods and fires

“She brings such a fresh and unique energy and vibe to the Leir House as well so that’s really, really cool and just watching the trajectory of her art over the past year has been so wonderful to watch,” said Bethany Handfield, Penticton and District Community Arts Council administrator.

Hathor: Goddess of Many Things can be discovered Thursday to Sunday until Nov. 6 at the Leir House Cultural Centre.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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200,000-year-old handprints may be the world's oldest artwork, scientists say – CBC.ca

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A group of fossilized handprints and footprints found in Tibet, dating back roughly 200,000 years, could be the earliest examples of human art. And they were made by children.

Every parent knows that children love to get their hands and feet into mud. Such seems to be the case long ago at what used to be a hot spring at Quesang, high on the Tibetan Plateau at an altitude of 4,269 metres (14,000 feet) above sea level.

A report in the journal Science Bulletin suggests these impressions were intentionally placed, not just the result of wandering in the area. The foot and hand prints fit exactly within a space, arranged close together like a mosaic. Their size indicates they were made by two children, one the size of a 7-year-old, and the other the size of a 12-year-old. 

Researchers discovered what is possibly the world’s oldest artwork, rendered here in a 3D scan, on a rocky promontory at Quesang on the Tibetan Plateau in 2018. (D.D. Zhang et al. / Science Bulletin)

During that time, travertine, which is a type of limestone formed by hot mineral springs, formed a pasty mud which was perfect for making handprints. Later, when the hot spring dried up, the mud hardened into stone, preserving the prints over time. 

The rocks have been dated to between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago. It is not known exactly who the people were that lived on the Tibetan Plateau at that time, but one possibility is the Denisovans, a branch of our early ancestors who lived in Asia and resembled modern humans. Tibetans living today still carry Denisovan genes.

Two ethnic Tibetan children play chess at a Tibetan village at the feet of Kalong Mountain in Tongren County. (Jason Lee / Reuters)

Whether the imprints can be considered art or just kids playing in the mud is up for interpretation, although the authors of the paper told Live Science it may be art in the same way that parents hang scribbles from children on their refrigerators and call it art. The authors describe the medium the prints are in as intentionally altered, which they suggest could have been a kind of performance to show like, “Hey, look at me, I’ve made my handprints over these footprints.”

Or perhaps these impressions represent the human desire to leave marks behind on the landscape that say, “I was here.” It’s a tradition that continues today with graffiti on walls in back alleys and famous actors and actresses who leave impressions of their hands and feet in cement along Hollywood Boulevard.

A makeshift memorial appeared for late comedian, actor and legendary entertainer Jerry Lewis around his hand and feet prints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles when he died in 2017. (Kyle Grillot / Reuters)

Little did these prehistoric kids know their handiwork would be preserved for hundreds of thousands of years.

If the carefully made prints are considered art, it pushes the history of rock art back more than 100,000 years. The oldest stencil-type handprints, where a hand is placed on a wall and coloured powder is blown around it to make an outline, have been found along with other cave paintings in Sulawesi, Indonesia and El Castillo, Spain dating back between 40,000 to 45,000 years ago. This is known as parietal art because it is not meant to be moved, unlike paintings or statues that can be displayed anywhere and traded. And the oldest statues also only go back to about the same time period.

A cave painting dating back to nearly 44,000 years was seen in a limestone cave in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Picture taken December 4, 2019. (Indonesia’s National Research Centre for Archaeology/Griffith University/Handout via Reuters)

The children of ancient Tibet could be considered among the world’s first artists, or maybe they were just playing in the mud like all kids do. But the question of whether the impressions are art or not is almost moot because handprints and footprints from the deep past provide valuable scientific information.

An international team of researchers describe ancient hand and footprints made deliberately which they argue represent art. (Gabriel Ugueto)

Archeology usually deals with fragments from past cultures, such as pieces of pottery, building foundations, monuments and bones. It is up to the scientists to infer, to fill in the gaps and try to determine what the people were actually like. But handprints are the direct signature of a person.

Tourists on Hollywood Boulevard squat down to place their hands in the prints of their favourite actors to get a sense of what it might be like to shake their hand, sort of a virtual handshake. Imagine a handshake that reaches across millennia into an actual moment in time, to a couple of kids who were just messing in the mud.

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