Welcome guest blogger, and one of my BFF’s, Marjorie J (Tulalip and Swinomish), she’s a current law student and I’ve clearly gotten in her head with the Native Appropriations talk. If I’ve gotten in your head too and you’d like to guest blog about an issue, just send me an email!
I have mixed feelings about The 12th Man design by one of my favorite t-shirt companies, Casual Industrees. I am not sure if the artist is from a Coast Salish tribe, which either heightens or ends the debate. Based on my personal aesthetic alone my first reaction is: this looks awesome. Of course being one of Adrienne’s friends and a devoted fan, I question my endorsement after my analysis naturally evolves into larger questions about art, identity, acceptance, and what happens when Native cultures live harmoniously (or at least not so adversely) with others?
The Amateur’s Art Analysis and A Peek Into My Thought Process:
The artist extended the theme of the stylized Seahawks
logo on a foam head
and added wings, not previously found on the logo or the foam heads. The style of the wings is clearly contemporary and does not follow the customary rules of any Coast Salish art forms I know. Rather, the wings incorporate customary shapes
used in Coast Salish art by modern and traditional (Native) artists alike.
Where we start to move away from imagery of a fan’s foam head towards a fan’s headdress or mask is the face: the two green paint lines on the cheek suggest the 12th Man is wearing “war paint” instead of mimicking the black grease or tape the players use on their cheeks to cut down on glare. Now it’s starting to look more like a hipster appropriation and misinterpretation and I wonder – was the inspiration for this design a transformation mask
Let’s assume the artist is not from a Coast Salish tribe. Generally as to the entire design and specifically as to the shapes used in the wings, how offensive is this appropriation? Consider…
Native Identity and Regional Identity:
One day a few weeks ago, a fellow Washingtonian (who does not identify as Native) and I were discussing how Coast Salish art is not hard to come across in the day-to-day life of a non-Native person in Washington and especially Seattle. It is commissioned as public art by Seattle (sculptures
, 2-D designs
, and even manhole covers
among other things). It’s bought up and displayed by universities
, art museums
, private non-native collectors, tribes, and Indian casinos
alike. My friend mentioned how she didn’t realize until moving away from Washington how accustomed she’d come to seeing it. I realized that the images I find so comforting are also reminiscent of home to her.
Because of this day-to-day presence of Coast Salish art through the region, the art is not only Native, it might also be a component of regional identity.
Because of this, I started to think about the extent of local tribal influence outside of art. Anyone with nominal familiarity with my tribe will probably tell you that our ‘presence’ in the past 30 years has grown like crazy. The success of commercial investments
has translated into economic
influence that reaches far beyond the reservation borders.
Now, any tribe with economic success is an exception and not the norm. However, keeping in mind that most tribes are probably working towards more economic success and political representation…
Let’s Compare Another Regional Identity:
Looking at this, I started to compare it to what I saw in New Zealand. Check out the use of shapes in the 12th Man and compare it to the appropriation/incorporation/
influence of common Maori art and shapes throughout New Zealand (look at the Rugby World Cup logo for Wellington
and official ball
, this place name sign for the Kapiti Coast
, and a logo for a University of Auckland event
& tell me if you see any similarities). The Maori culture is an undeniable, unique, and influential component of the broader New Zealand culture and identity
. I wonder how the prevalent use of Maori art and themes by non-Maori has evolved to what it is today? Does it matter that Maori make up a larger percentage of the NZ population than Natives do in the U.S.? That the Maori language is one of the official languages of NZ? Or that the Maori have devoted seats in Parliment
? If it’s not appropriation, is it incorporation – suggesting the non-Maori with power are acting more cooperatively than entitled? Or is it influence – a result of political and cultural power? The extent to which any or all Maori people believe it is appropriation
, I obviously have not inquired. But if my questions are answered, how do they inform my last question?
Yup, finally my last question:
So, for me at least, it all begs the question: When Native cultures actively work to increase artistic, political, and economic success in a region and have thus become a component of both Native identity AND regional identity, is there a point at which we, the local Natives accept non-Native interpretation/incorporation of our culture (i.e. art) as something that unites us as a region of people?