POLITICALLY CORRECT ART POLICE HAVE ARRIVED
Beth Bolander, an artist from Haines, has just been edited by the precious snowflakes. And now she’s been bullied by them. She may not know it, but her art will never be the same.
Bolander’s elaborate, time-consuming artistic endeavor, Doragon, after winning third place in the Juneau Wearable Arts Show last weekend, was pulled from the final runway lineup because someone of Asian heritage complained about “cultural appropriation.”
Welcome to the world of politically correct runway art.
Christy NaMee Eriksen was offended by the entry. She said that viewing it was like being punched three times. She actually equated it to physical violence against her.
“Culture is not a costume. Real life in this body cannot be made up,” she wrote in a long and anguished essay on Facebook.
“Then you are punched again, bc it was so planned and so supported. Accepted into the show and dress rehearsed. You are punched several hundred times at once, in sync with the applause of the audience. There is not tasteful blackface. There is not tasteful redface. But here are my neighbors. My community’s teachers, reporters, doctors, artists, builders, leaders. Here they all are, cheering for yellowface.
When you approach the JAHC executive director and staff (the organizers) they say “honestly christy it’s been a long day.” And “you’re not making this easy” and “I asked ____[asian person] and she said it was okay.” This is how they punch you again and again on reflex, simply bc they are so used to punching your people this way. So sure of their body, so confident in being, so unused to listening. This punch is the worst bc they scold you with your own name, as though even it can be twisted for their own delight. As though you are a tired child and not a former board member, not someone who has shown knowledge or leadership in racial justice at their org, as though you are not a donor, a gallery sponsor, a ticket buyer, or a real life Asian person with real life thoughts and feelings. From their view, you are punching yourself.
Racism isn’t one act or one person being offended. It is an institutionalized oppression, kept alive by intentional and unintentional practices that center the experience of white people and invalidate people of color. The JAHC should be a leader in the arts and a leader in racial equity in our city. They owe us an apology and they must commit to doing better.
I’d like to ask my community, especially white allies, for help. Will you advocate for racial justice in our town by making this same request of the JAHC, and having the conversations necessary to create change? The honest truth is I am weak of spirit lately. I have to set some boundaries for myself around this. I am posting this with sorrow and with hope and now I am letting it go for awhile so it doesn’t eat me. Thank you in advance for listening. Thank you for being in this community with me. Thank you to people of color who have both courage and faith, sharp teeth and soft lips, you inspire me, thank you the most. Kamsahamnida
THE BULLYING BEGINS
Dozens of people agreed, expressing sympathy for Eriksen’s position and some said they were shocked and appalled at how insensitive the costume was, presumably because the artist is not of Asian descent, the model is not of Asian descent, yet the work of art incorporates Asian themes such as kimono, obi, and chopsticks, along with a mermaid theme.
The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council didn’t do what most arts organizations do first, which is defend the artist (or the model, who cannot help but feel burned by the criticism).
Instead, JAHC piled on publicly to mollify a complainant. It apologized in writing for offending anyone.
“The JAHC deeply regrets the pain that running this piece has caused and disavows all forms of cultural appropriation. In deference to experts more educated on those difficult topics, the artist, production team, and JAHC have made the decision to not run the piece in today’s show.” – Juneau Arts and Humanities Council
JAHC went on to say it would embrace the controversy as a learning moment that would foster community discussion.
One contrarian on Facebook said the criticism went too far, and that equating a costume on a runway with being punched is unfair to people who have really been punched.
That’s how conversations go on Facebook — everyone’s a critic, and this conversation was no different. People chimed in from both sides and the debate rages on.
But it exposed a Chairman Mao-style Cultural Revolution taking place in the Juneau arts community, where certain forms of art will be banned from sale, and now from view. This is a purging of the impure. During the Cultural Revolution, only art representing rosy-cheeked revolutionaries was allowed, and then only expressed in social realism style of art. There was, after all, a correct way to do art.
In 2018, the leading Juneau arts organization is now censoring art that is impure in its imagination. There are incorrect ways to do art in the new cultural revolution in Juneau.
The artistic suppression extends not only to Bolander, but now to every artist who is planning to work on a wearable work of art for next year’s show.
Every performance artist or model will be mindful of the public shaming, and each will hold back just a little, consciously or unconsciously. Children will need to be taught the new rules of first checking to make sure no one will be offended before putting a crayon to a piece of paper.
Some artists will second-guess themselves: “Can I incorporate chopsticks?” “Is this raven head OK?” Without exception, they will seal off areas of creativity for fear of reprisal: No African-inspired elements. No Alaska Native inspiration. No Plains Indian leatherwork. No Asian inspiration.
It’s a brave new world for artists. But we have even more cautions for the wearable art creators: Whatever you do, in the future, no pants. Pants were invented in China by nomadic tribes. Please don’t be insensitive.