neitherlandish asked: I thought your recent post about microagressions in art history was really well said and potent. I'm glad I found your blog through it- and thanks for writing!
Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
tropesarenotbad asked: Oh, it wasn't a critique! You're bang on about the imperialism for 95% of anthropology. It's rather literally the one school that's anti-racist. Thankfully, this school is one of the largest in North America (I've been in classes over a month and only recently learned all this)
Haha. Yes, it’s…well Anthropology was interesting. Doubly so when we touched upon it in my Intro to African Studies course.
Thankfully there’s at least some…counter-movement?
…As a young half-Mexican girl, I was not supposed to feel good about resembling a Mexican painter… Beauty standards aside, this is a theme many children who aren’t white or like myself, are only half-white, tackle. Very often, there is no reflection of us in images, in paintings, in the “Canon” or popular media. If we do find it, or identify with it, we are often bullied for it.
Yesterday, a speaker explained to our class that they chose not to display a dear, close friend’s artwork because: “He was Indian. And his works were selling very well, but I did not care about sales. All his paintings had the feathers, the feathers on their heads, they were Indians, and you couldn’t look past it. His work did not have the universal quality that I wanted to show.”
Such a good post by themuseologist. It’s interesting for me to reflect on, as I’m a white woman & as someone who curates portraiture on tumblr. I think what the speaker was saying is that certain forms of ‘ethnic’ art immediately have ‘identity markers’ attached. You could obviously paint a brown-haired white woman and a brown-haired Mexican woman side by side, and they would look very similar. But when you attach feathers and fabric patterns and place-markers (rural New Hampshire, rural Oaxaca), it ‘marks’ the person with a certain identity.
So on the one hand, I agree with the speaker: ‘feathers’ aren’t universal. A white person can’t easily imagine themself as someone in feathers, because their cultural group has self-excluded itself from that marker. In the mind of 21st century Americans of any ethnicity, feathers are specific; they ‘mark’ someone as Indian.
But on the other hand, I very much agree with themuseologist: Why doesn’t ‘woman in jeans in New Hampshire countryside’ mark someone as White? Where is the shorthand symbol that means “White”? Why is she always marked as a scholar, as a painter, and I can walk around unmarked?
I think that’s the privilege of being in the dominant ethnicity in a dominant culture in a dominant country - you can much more easily be depicted as unmarked.
My point is this: all art has a regional identifier. While I quoted the speaker saying “feathers”, I can assume she meant honorary feathers, perhaps even, a War bonnet. A white person should not wear those objects as a Native American person does because it would be culturally appropriative and insensitive to a symbol of an honored member of a tribe.
But I can relate to the image of, or understand the meaning of an image of a Native American man wearing a War Bonnet just as much as I could relate to the image of a white male soldier wearing a military service metal. I am, in neither case, that person. Some of my family is of Native (Yoeme) descent, but I do not belong to a tribe, and do not claim that identity because it is not something I grew up in. And I am also not a white man. I have fought no wars, earned no high (sacred) honors for service from my community.
Still, I can relate to these images. And that’s my point. If you claim to be unable to relate to a Native American portrait because there are Native American identity markers you claim to be unable to find the humanity in someone else’s work of art simply because you won’t try. So what if they are culturally specific? We are all inundated daily with culturally specific things that are not ours in this field. If I were to choose to consume cultural material that only directly related to me, because that was all that was “universal” enough, I could consume very little.
This is not a problem limited to Art History, of course. I am fair of skin and half white. I can find many images that look like me, even if they don’t share my Mexican heritage. But I have also watched my Aunt call every Toys R Us in the stateto see if there were any “Mexican” or “Brown” baby dolls for my cousins to own. I have watched my family — in a state on the border — unable to find any representation for their daughters and quietly give up trying to find an “exact” match. My cousin’s mother bought black baby dolls instead of white ones. Her reasoning being: if they couldn’t have ones that were Mexican, they could at least have ones that weren’t white because they will spend the rest of their lives being forced to identify with whiteness, white images, white women, white television. Had we been able to afford it, I’m sure she would have readily bought American Girl Josephina dolls. There is, again, no Latina Disney Princess, and with the release of Frozen, there will be two more white Princesses for little girls who are not white to learn to identify with even though that is not them, that is not universal.
It never was. But I assure you, we learned to look past this. Devoid of much representation to reflect ourselves, we looked further and identified with people with other cultures and other “markers”. I can identify with the Mona Lisa, see beauty in it, and marvel in the woman painted — but I’ve never been Italian, never been rich or aristocratic.
Identifying with images — and people unlike ourselves — is a learned process. Why are people refusing and unwilling to learn to identify with people like me? Why prevent me from enjoying, or being proud of — identifying with people like myself?
My point is this speaker had no point, except to say she was not willing to see the humanity of people who were not like her, or merit it the same worth. And that is deeply hurtful.
tropesarenotbad asked: It depends on what anthropological school you focus on. Boas actually made it his lifelong mission to eradicate racism in anthropology. Was also hugely into cultural preservation and sent his grad students out everywhere to write everything about Native tribes. Even invented scripts for Native languages so *they* could help. They've interviewed a few Native cultures he'd worked with, and they were thankful for the in depth records so they could partially re-learn their own culture.
To be fair, my brushes with Anthropology are entirely self-learned.
Thanks for telling me!
washingtonshead said: Thank you; please keep writing about matters like this.
I suppose I will try to write about them as they happen! Thanks.
tropesarenotbad asked: I recently ran into a microagression in anthropology, which from the get go was a field of misfits who loved studying culture. This was seen as a good thing until three women (two white, one black) came along and were highly influential. Then the focus shifted to anthropologists being "alienated" from society and "tailoring anthropology, even if unconsciously, to suit their own psychological needs." Quotes from my textbook. (Never mind that the MEN did this, too)
I like material culture quite a bit, I am admittedly fascinated by it, but as I grew older I understood more and more how much of anthropology and archaeology (and just as much Art History) was a product of Western Imperialism and otherization.
There tends to be a disconnect between the acceptable and “invisible” establishment and the introduction of new ideas and approaches.
Is one of them University of Delaware by any chance? :)
Actually, yes! I’m debating — I was recommended the Winterthur program, given my interest in the decorative arts, but the PhD with a focus in Curatorial work also interested me. One of the standard Art History program POI’s I’m interested in seems to be on leave until the end of this year, though so I have a few concerns about that.
Finding the professors who teach in the Winterthur program also seems to be rather tricky…
ETA: You go there, right? I visited the Winterthur museum, but I didn’t really see Newark. How do like living in a smaller town? My big concern is I don’t drive or have a car…all the other programs I’m looking at are in cities. How do you like the program? If you don’t feel comfortable posting could you send me a fanmail? :)