The end of art in Juneau - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, February 20, 2020
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The end of art in Juneau

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.

M. Wagner Photo / German Archaeological Institute

 

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • This cultural appropriation business is just dumb. In anthropology the borrowing of elements of one culture from another is known as cultural diffusion, and it has been happening since the beginning of time. When one culture sees something cool and worthy of imitating in another, such as mainline western culture using the ideas of the kuspuk, ulu or kayak for instance, it has done so with appreciation to that culture. Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery. All political correctness is stupid and divisive. I hate it with a passion.

    • Gosh, you got it so right!!!!!

  • Well said Mr. Peterson. Imitation is flattery. Those who are offended by imitation need to get over themselves. The sheeple need to wake up too. I’m sending a letter to the Juneau arts council. And I’m canceling a planned trip to Juneau, doesn’t seem like a place I’d like to visit anymore.

  • OMG! (tears dripping from nose) poor Christy NaMee Eriksen!

    We hope and pray (in a non-culturally-appropriating way) that poor Christy NaMee Eriksen is not further offended, forced into culturally appropriating the white allies’ non-profit, federal hand-out culture, including the white allies’ language, dress, food, medical care, transportation, money, television, social media, conveniences, and everything else that now makes life so burdensome for Those Who Were Here Before The White Allies Came.

    As socially concious team players, it is our duty to second- and third-guess ourselves if necessary to avoid offending poor Christy NaMee Eriksen and yes, to train our children to use crayons “…in deference to experts more educated on those difficult topics” and not eat them, or be eaten by them… the crayons, not the experts.

  • This kind of censorship of the arts based on complaints of cultural appropriation is disturbing, and it’s happening all over the US. In most cases it’s actually about race, not culture. Because the artist was apparently white according to Eriksen she’s not allowed to do artwork with an Asian look or style to it. The artist is not allowed to express herself freely and develop and self-actualize to her full potential because someone like Eriksen might complain.

    The anti- cultural appropriationists position is that people in the arts must be segregated and limited by their race, appearance or ancestry. If this continues artists will begin to censor themselves in order to be allowed to exhibit or sell their art. It’s troubling.

  • I believe, Suzanne, your opening line is scary accurate. We older, of conservative thought, will mostly see through the smoke. Snowflakes, like their nicknames, will just roll along with gimmie-more until they become snowballs, then becoming Snowmen and Snowwomen who are mindless creatures that allow others to stuff carrots of liberality in their faces.

    An example: Students in Florida placing blame on the NRA. That goes beyond ignorant!

  • What part of Asia does “Erikson” trace her name to?….Her problem may be driven by the guilt of her having a Caucasian name…..she should seek therapy for this and change her name and leave people alone

  • I cannot even put into words how sick this attitude makes me, cultural appropriation, seriously WTHeck… so…. am I not supposed to go to the Little Norway Festival in Petersburg or learn Tlingit words, have native art in my living room or make fry bread. Was I inappropriate when I attended the Native Olympic Games at Auke Bay School and cheered on my non native grandson when he competed in the Seal Hop? Am I not supposed to celebrate Cinco De Mayo, Chinese New Year or Russian Christmas or will I be culturally inappropriate while I watch a video with pride of my grandson who is wearing an Indonesia necklace and sarong and when an elder Indonesian man invites him to sit and learn a musical instrument….. because I might offend someone? What the hell, I thought we were trying to be better at culture diversity and acceptance. What better way than to create, join in, wear, buy, love, or own something beautiful and celebrate all things.
    Yikes this story makes my blood boil and I am totally embarrassed by this woman and how the JAHC handled this, I will boycott both for awhile. I will not be one her “white allies” in destroying our communities efforts to embrace and love all cultures!!!!

    • No, Pam you are not to celebrate any of those things that do not align with YOUR cultural background, we must all live in our own little boxes and never venture out. I am having a hard time trying to come up with what to wear to work tomorrow as to not offend someone, I can’t wear pants, as pointed out in the article that they were invented in China by nomadic tribes, I don’t think the Norwegians or the Irish came up with the concept of buttons, or shoes with laces, I’m not sure exactly who thought up the idea of undergarments…. do you see my problem? I may just have to stay home and hide under my covers, as long as my using a quilt with a traditionally Amish design doesn’t offend the Amish….. sheesh!

  • In Christy’s heart crushing sad saga on FB she appealed to her community, especially white allies, to help. Well Christy I suspect that am not an ally of yours .. nor any other snowFLAKE, but I am white and thanks to you, I now know what it feels like to be culturally appropriated. But I’ll try to get over it if you will work to get over yourself.

  • My question is: If the artist was Japanese, would Ms. Erikson have been offended? When she was at the show and saw the piece, was she automatically overcome with the feeling of being offended…or did that come later after she searched for the artist and saw she was white?!

  • No one can one do anything these days that someone doesn’t find offensive.
    What a ridiculous world we live in today.

  • Removing the piece from the exhibit seems like racial discrimination. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the artist has grounds for a lawsuit, especially if there was a prize involved. Her artwork won third place on its artistic merits alone. It was only when some people saw what the artist looks like that they denounced it and pulled it. And by the way a person’s physical appearance (phenotype) is no indication of their cultural background and identity or even ethnicity in many cases.

    The bottom part of the model’s costume looks like a mermaid’s tail. Aren’t mermaids a product of European culture? The Little Mermaid was a classic European fairytale long before it was made into a movie.

    • If there were a large group of people who aligned their thinking to this person’s dissent on another’s art, and if these individuals convinced even more of their friends to a like opinion, and if this thinking progressed as it seems to be happening,then I believe we are headed toward a scary future.

  • I’m disappointed the Costume was pulled from the show.its a lovely piece. Art has always been controversial and … Art is WHATEVER THE ARTIST WANTS IT TO BE! Art does exactly that- evokes feelings of love or hate or someplace in between. This has been going on for thousands of years. It’s why we hang a piece or art in our house … or choose NOT too. In talking with other people
    I’ve heard the action taken has caused several people to rethink entering Juneau Wearable Arts in the future – that is most disappointing!!!!

  • Beth Bolanders Geisha was well thought out and presented beautifully with respect. It is apparent to most logical people that this art was not making a mockery of another culture. To find fault, merely because the artist and demonstrator were not Japanese is racism in and of itself. This was a BAD call from JAHC. To shun an artists work and remove her piece based upon her cultural background IS RACIST. She deserves an apology and unfortunately JAHC obviously did not take enough time to thoroughly consider every side, instead it was a knee jerk reaction equally embroiled in a display of racism and division.

  • Oh man! I had not thought of this situation this way. You guys have made some great points.

    I say we show that Namee Erickson what’s what by bringing back black face and the minstrelism that was so popular in the early 20th century.

    Maybe a march is in order ?

    And to those that might say dare accuse me of racism…. I’ll simply show them my ancestry.com genetic results… Certifying that I’m 2% sub -Saharan African and I have every right to make a giant ass out of myself.

    Who’s with me!?

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