Random Appropriation of the Day! (Totem Cups)

In Alaska Native, intellectual property, Native art, pacific northwest, totem cups, totem pole by Adrienne K.3 Comments


I initially didn’t have much to say about these “Totem Cups” by designer Rob Southcott–they’re cups. That look like a totem pole. Oh, but they are made in the land of many great Native appropriations: China.

Southcott is a Toronto-based artist, and his pieces seem to incorporate a lot of the natural world with “functionality”. Lots of driftwood looking things, kinda pretty.

But then I got to thinking. What irks me about this product is not only the “totem pole” as interpreted by a non-Native who has no knowledge of the sacredness or intentionality behind the designs of Northwest coast/Alaska totem poles, but also the fact that the revenue of this product, clearly based off Indigenous designs, goes to the non-Native artist. So he benefits, while the tribes that created and maintained this style of art do not. That doesn’t seem fair, does it?

If I decided to market a product that was clearly a direct rip off of one of Southcott’s other designs, I would have a lawsuit slapped on me before it even hit shelves. The slippery slope of intellectual property clearly falls on the side of those in power, doesn’t it? 

Totem Cups: http://www.neatoshop.com/product/Totem-Cups

Rob Southcott: http://robsouthcott.com/

(Thanks Marj and arkityp!)
  • I just saw these for sale on urbanoutfitters.com last night.

  • Horrible idea, even without the appropriation issues. If I owned those and stacked them like that i’d accidentally bump them and break them within a day or two.

  • And they cost how much?!