Exhibition cancelled by indigenous protest

TORONTO – What started out as a protest against artwork appropriation in a gallery choice, has snowballed into an appropriative artist and her exhibit being cut from an upcoming gallery launch date.

Amanda PL’s art work is said to plagiarize historical, cultural and symbolic figures using Norval Morrisseau’s style; therefore not only copying Morrisseau’s style, but also the cultural embodiment of his work. The artist even used indigenous syllabics to sign her artwork with.

The date for her to showcase her “indigenous inspired” artwork was set for Friday, May 12 at Visions Gallery. But not if indigenous artists had anything to say about it.

Nancy King, an Anishinabe artist from Toronto, first posted expressing her call for action on Monday, April 24, writing, “This is a non-native artist, showing appropriative woodlands art. This is stealing. Show up to show her this isn’t okay. Protest it.”

King decided it would be best to send professional and direct letters of protest to the gallery, of which many other artists and supporters of authentic indigenous artwork followed suit. Visions Gallery Co-owner Tony Magee said that the first thing the gallery did in response was reply with an apology to each individual. He noted that the issue wasn’t anticipated, as they hadn’t thought to ask if PL was indigenous.

“In retrospect I wish that I had,” Magee told CBC. But he explained that PL didn’t misrepresent herself as anything but a Canadian artist.

However, the gallery did offer PL the chance to display another style of artwork, which she declined – thus forcing the cancellation. Her initial reaction to the backlash was “surprise”, but the artist has still decided to continue painting with the chosen format.

“This just happens to be the style that I’m drawn towards at this time. This is how I choose to express myself and this is how I choose to continue to paint,” she said.

Justice Murray Sinclair has publicly supported PL’s decision as he called the protest of PL’s artwork a “hysterical reaction”.

In a post addressing Sinclair on Sunday, King wrote, “We are not being hysterical. We are standing up for our rights as indigenous peoples. I think it is absolutely preposterous that Amanda should be praised for the plagiarism of Norval Morrisseau’s work and elevated to a level of having the agency to teach Woodlands art.”

“The reason for our fight stems from our pride in Morrisseau’s work. He is a legend and we are defending the sacredness of his work. In this act, we are also defending the sovereignty of our nations and the fact that we are intelligent enough and connected enough to speak for ourselves. We don’t need others to do it for us, we need them to stand beside us.”

On the topic of cultural appropriation and it’s attachment to the economic damage to indigenous artists, CBC posted a definition for cultural appropriation on July 2016 by Broadcaster and Poet Janet Rogers, “Cultural appropriation can be defined when one person from one culture takes culturally distinct items, the aesthetics or spiritual practices — and in this case artwork — from another culture and mimics it. They adopt it as their own without consent, permission or any cultural relationship to the object or practice, in order to make money or just because they think it’s cool.”

As many indigenous artists use their artwork as the sole source of revenue for themselves and their communities, decline in exposure and purchase of authentic indigenous artwork certainly has an impact on both.

Note from the Journalist: The overall problem isn’t that PL is inspired by indigenous artwork, it is the fact that she is a non-indigenous woman that is willing to plagiarize indigenous symbolism and culture as a device to launch her career, while a real and true indigenous artist could be struggling to find exposure. It seems to be very easy for non-indigenous people to receive credit for imitation, than it is for indigenous people to be authentic.

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  1. Norval Morrisseau was an Anishinabe shaman and a residential school survivor. He painted first and foremost for the Anishinabe people incorporating stories and sacred teachings into his visionary paintings. He developed a whole visual language and began a dialogue in what is now known as the Woodland style to preserve the stories and help his people reeling from genocide. I am all for freedom for artists but one thing settlers particularly have a hard time understanding is that some things are just sacred, off limits and that everything isn’t a ‘wild west’ free for all. The fact is that Amanda PL hasn’t been invited into that circle and so has no business pretending she has been. For that matter she likely doesn’t even understand what is being said or what she is even saying with the appropriated symbols. I am a settler and my dear husband is Anishinabe. It has taken effort to educate myself how to be a good ally and learn that the path to be invited to the circle must be a humble and respectful one.

    1. Not according to her. In fact, she states that the First Nations culture and the Woodlands style are what inspire her. Besides that no group owns an artistic style.

  2. The idea that one’s ethnicity prohibits them from expressing themselves in a particular artistic style is sick and regressive. It is a form of cultural segregation in a society that values multicultural development.

    1. I would add, the term plagiarism is misapplied, seemingly for effect. It would imply she is selling works that are copies of existing works. This simply is not true. She creates her own works in an established style. By the awful logic presented, First Nation’s artists would be prohibited from creating in a style that originated outside their culture – which is absurd.

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