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I’m an Art Therapist. Am I Guilty of Cultural Appropriation?

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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?

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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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Local Art Hives provide community space for creativity and healing – Sherbrooke Record

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Lawrence Belanger,

Local Journalism Initiative

As the wind and rain raged in the dark on a cold November weeknight, it was warm, bright, and dry in the Salle le Tremplin, where Lou-Philip and his friend Benjamin gathered paints and brushes for a project Benjamin was about to begin. All the while, fragments of music from an upright piano and acoustic guitar filled the room while several others sat at vinyl-covered tables working on paintings, sculptures, and more.

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Only open since last spring, the Art Hive held every Wednesday in Tremplin 16-30’s multi-purpose room is one of the region’s better-attended hives. Like most Art Hives, attendance is open to the public and free of charge.

Art Hives are a global movement, founded in Canada, to help like-minded people start community-based studios. At an Art Hive (Ruche d’art in French), anyone can work on self-directed artistic projects, with no instruction or direction. The concept was conceived by Janis Timm-Bottos, an art therapist and associate professor at Concordia University.

The history of Art Hives begins during the 1990s when Timm-Bottos was working in a community clinic serving the homeless in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Toronto Biennial of Art Appoints Curators

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The Toronto Biennial of Art has appointed Montreal curator Dominique Fontaine and Peruvian curator Miguel A. López as co-curators of its 2024 edition.

Fontaine, who was born in Haiti, is a founding director of aposteriori, a non-profit curatorial platform that produces diverse and innovative contemporary art. Her projects include curating Between the earth and the sky, the possibility of everything for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in Toronto in 2014, and co-curating the survey exhibition Here, We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary, which showed at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2018.

López worked as chief curator, and later as co-director, of TEOR/éTica in San José, Costa Rica, from 2015 to 2020. In 2019, he curated the retrospective exhibition Cecilia Vicuña: Seehearing the Enlightened Failure at the Witte de With (now Kunstinstituut Melly) in Rotterdam. The exhibition travelled to Mexico City, Madrid and Bogota.

Patrizia Libralato, the biennial’s executive director, said the two curators will contribute scholarship, innovation and inspiration to deepen the event’s connections to both local communities and global conversations.

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“Together, we aim to create an event as uniquely diverse, responsive, challenging and engaging as the city itself,” she said.

The biennial, which will run from Sept. 21 to Dec. 1, 2024, attracted more then 450,000 visitors to its first two editions, which featured free programming across the city.

It has featured work by artists such as AA Bronson, Judy Chicago, Brian Jungen, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Kapwani Kiwanga, Caroline Monnet, Denyse Thomasos and Camille Turner.


Source: Toronto Biennial of Art

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Football and art come together in the first NFT exhibition of its kind

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–  The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture’s From Strike to Stroke exhibit features 64 FIFA World Cup match results in a unique man-machine collaboration

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 6, 2022 /CNW/ — The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) celebrates the art of the beautiful game in a unique exhibition at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. From Strike to Stroke features 64 NFTs by 32 artists from the competing nations, while Artificial Intelligence (AI) fuses the pieces from the contending two countries in each of the 64 matches into a unique piece based on the match outcome. The result will be a singular collection of one-of-a-kind NFTs created through a collaboration of man and machine. Strike to Stroke runs at the Msheireb Galleria Doha, Qatar until December 23.

Ithra, a cultural bridge between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, channels the world’s passion for football into its infatuation with the arts as the world comes together for the World Cup. The exhibition melds the man-made with the machine-made, and combines art, sport and technology in an innovative fashion.

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It features the work of 32 emerging and established artists, each tasked with creating a piece representing their country and using their respective team’s jersey colors. After each match, the AI-powered algorithm combines the artists’ creations with match statistics to generate unique pieces that represent each game. The collection will be a unique set of pieces presented as NFTs – non-fungible tokens. These cryptographic assets are based on blockchain technology, and created in a process similar to cryptocurrencies.

From Strike to Stroke includes artists who have never created NFTs and NFT artists who had not worked within traditional fine art.

“The passion shared by football fans for the love of the beautiful game can be tangential to the passion shared by art aesthetes,” said Dr. Shurooq Amin in her curator’s brief to the exhibition. “By connecting 32 artists from both the traditional and digital arenas, Ithra not only bridges the gap between Web2 to Web3, and between football and art, but furthermore between human and machine, as the artists collaborate with AI generation technology to create unique NFTs that combine art, football and technology.”

Visit www.striketostroke.com.

Images and exhibition catalogue can be found here.

For more information on Ithra and its programs, visit www.ithra.com.

Photo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1961775/Ithra_World_Cup_NFTs.jpg

SOURCE King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)

For further information: Media contacts: Nour Aldajani, [email protected], +966-583268120, Nora Al Harthi, [email protected], Domia Abdi, [email protected], Hadeel Eisa, [email protected]

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