But it's pretty.

Earlier today I left a comment on a blog that was featuring the work of Spell Jewelry, an Australia-based duo creating jewelry and accessories they describe as "funky boho" and who own a store which is their "very own gypsy wonderland, and stocks their iconic Native American inspired adornments, fashion & footwear". The sisters create their accessories out of leather, turquoise and feathers because "they've been enamoured by the feeling created when you combine" them since they were small children. When I saw these images and read their story, I sort of reached my limit with this nonsense.

I left a comment on Live & Enliven and was candid, but measured, with what I said. I wanted to make sure I provided a clear and easy to grasp reaction to the review and reactions these "designers" were generating.
I hate to make my first comment here such a downer (because I do find your blog to be lovely), but I really wish blogs (like yours, and mine and in general) would stop glorifying cultural theft. These two women were not the first people to blend leather, turquoise and feathers and when you keep that in mind, they are also not the first people to do it in this way. As a result, I don't find these pieces to be creative in the slightest. 
The response my comment received was less than surprising...no one wants to talk about this issue, we just want to look at pretty stuff. I revisited the post this evening and saw a comment in response to mine from Sleepy Darlings:
Clearly these are inspired by Native American jewelry and artwork, but does that make them any less amazing? When someone makes Egyptian style or Victorian style piece of jewelry using similar materials does that make it any less beautiful to look at?

I like to think of these references to the past as a constant reminder of who we are, and its lovely to know that even outside of the U.S. the art and techniques of the Native Americans is still admired!!
Well, since you asked, yes. I think the distinction between the two is that Victorians, for example, were not raped, pillaged and murdered en masse for their land by settlers in a country that didn't belong to them only to have that annihilation turned on its head by having people worldwide steal their ideas, designs and meaningful symbols and rituals, turning them into a commercially-accessible "pretty" aesthetic. So when I see representations of Native American culture and adornment on people who are openly and unabashedly stealing from them, and devolving meaningful cultural and religious objects into fun and funky headdresses and teepees, I feel moved to speak up.

At least in US, indigenous tribes and reservations are micromanaged by the federal government and poverty, addiction, homelessness and destitution continue to run rampant. All at our hands. Turning those things into snapshots and poignant images does not erase the impact of colonialism. Why don't we allow actual Native Americans to celebrate, and profit from, their own culture? Why is it prettier and more palatable when a porcelain-skinned model wears a headdress? Those are the questions I'm asking, and the answers that I continue to seek. I still contend that winsome photography and styling or not, these designs are not original or creative. I'd love to live in a world where cultural competence outweighed a commitment to just liking or making pretty things. Failing to acknowledge the valid and relevant experiences of your neighbor by keeping your head in the clouds is about as selfish as it gets.

EDITED TO ADD: In light of the recent Urban Outfitters/tru.che controversy, I find this shameless thievery from disenfranchised, marginalized people to be INCREDIBLY IRONIC. White people can steal from non-white people and it's just a cultural celebration, but when big business steals from indie artists, it's an issue of pearl-clutching offensiveness. Our priorities are a tragic mess.

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD: This is an incredible, concise and easy-to-absorb post on why wearing jewelry appropriated from Native American icons, religious paraphernalia and cultural traditions is offensive.

3 comments:

  1. "Past"? "Still"? Indigenous people still exist! SMH!

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  2. Also, "who we are"? Who the hell's "we"?

    I blame schools for this fuckery.

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  3. I applaud you for saying something. I would like to know who the "we" the responding comment is referring to when it says "who we are." I'd also like to kindly point out to said comment-poster that this is not part of the past because American Indians still exist and in fact continue to practice their cultures daily.

    As an American Indian, this sort of things irks me to no end.

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