Saturday, August 15, 2009
What is 'Real'?
This beautiful video of the Omo People has been making the rounds of Facebook, because it is so astonishing we can't resist forwarding it! It was sent to me by my friend Grace Matthews, on whose page another friend commented that while the Omo People traditionally have decorated themselves with clay-based colored pigments, the German photographer, Hans Silvester, created the headresses.
What does this mean? Aside from just enjoying the whole video visually I have a particular view of this controversy of what is 'real' or 'fake'.
I was privileged to take a graduate class in Inuit (Eskimo) art at Columbia University in 1965-66, taught by James Houston, a Canadian artist, author, and filmmaker who had lived among the Inuit for many years. (Little did I know at the time that I would be living with Inuit in Alaska the following year!) James Houston introduced lithography techniques to the Inuit people of Baffin Island, whose prints today are highly prized. Although not an indigenous technique, it was related, since people had been scratching into ivory for millenia. But the concept of printmaking, using paper, and the possibility of multiples was new.
The Inuit people, once they learned printmaking, made it fully their own. It does not matter that it was introduced by a non-Inuit person. Perhaps what does matter is that cooperatives were set up so that the profits went to the Inuit artists.
As an Art History major, I can only say that in these days of globalization, few if any indigenous cultures have not been influenced from the outside. However the new influences may be introduced, once they are learned and appropriated, they are most often integrated in a manner that is consistent with that culture's own history and traditions.
As a mixed-media artist I appropriate images, concepts, techniques, you name it - all the time. Once I have appropriated them I know they are fully mine. The same, I would imagine, as for the Inuit...or the Omo People.