Saturday, October 23, 2010

How Do Thunderbirds Speak?

How do thunderbirds speak?
Well, if it's extremely early in the morning, then this one speaks through a less than perfect photograph. I may have the urge to write again, but I know better than to try to get out the camera and disturb the rest of the sleeping household, ya know! I'd also like to go outside on the upper deck and look at the clouds covering our part of the sky like a downy blanket. Once again, though, I know better... the hound-doggies in the neighborhood have gone to sleep, and far be it from me to awaken sleeping children OR quietly slumbering puppies :)

So, what you see is what you get for photos of this thunderbird right now. That doesn't mean we can't talk (make that "whisper" and "tap the keyboard a little less noisily") about it right now, though! Technically speaking, this bead was melted out of dark ivory and coral colors of glass. That thunderbird design was done with thin stringers of coral glass. Gravity helped me with the contours of the bead itself, playing and pulling the glass around the rod as I thought of old pottery and beadwork.
Something else was on my mind, too, as I turned the mandrel and meditated. Could I use this pared down thunderbird symbol? I seem to have no problem making Buddhas, even though I'm not a Buddhist. I love to use Chinese inspired themes, and even though I'm a spiritual mutt who thinks the Tao comes pretty close to summing up my thoughts, I'm not Chinese. I adore making Madonnas (the Mother Mary, Queen of Heaven, not the pop star), even though I don't call myself a Christian. I love religious art, and it inspires my creativity! I try to let the glass tell me what it wants to be, but part of why that works is that I fill my brain with all sorts of material and images from the world's religions and cultures. Am I misappropriating someone else's culture and beliefs when I do that, though? I don't feel as if I am, I feel as if I'm honoring and connecting with another part of the world.
But if you look at it from the other side of the images/ideas, maybe it does make me a bit of an interloper. It's a fine line, if you ask me. It's a line I've thought about many times. Most of those times, I choose to use my inspiration and let it flow because I tend to think my intentions are good. When it comes to Native American inspiration, I have trouble doing that because I've read the other side of the story. I have a tiny book filled with pictures of Zuni fetishes, such intriguingly pared down shapes. The book mentions counterfeiters who sell fetishes to the detriment of the Zuni artists who attempt to make a living sculpting fetishes based on their culture. I've read an incredible book/conversation with Lame Deer, even keep it handy because I like to re-read snippets that resonate with my own beliefs. When you look up "Lakota spirituality," though, you are almost certain to come upon warnings about charlatans who don't belong to the tribe but try to sell themselves as "medicine men." You find admonishments that the Lakota way is cultural, and only members of the culture can claim it. Can you really argue with it?? This continent was wide open and land "belonged" to no one until our European ancestors came. I am thankful for my country, and I can't go back in time and stop change... but I can also see "progress" from the perspective of those whose world became smaller as it filled with settlers from other lands.
All of which brings me to my measley little glass thunderbird. In the big scheme of things, who would spend the time to argue with it, even if I sold it? It's just a piece of glass, not a million dollar conglomerate in the making. One of my cousins used to tell me our grandmother was part Cherokee, explaining Granny's complexion that was so much tanner than our own all year long. While looking over the family tree with my own Mom a few weeks ago, I mentioned that story again and asked her about it. To my surprise, she said it was her father who told her his mother was part Indian. Well, like lots of information about past generations, it's not easy to confirm or deny. If one of my maternal great-grandmothers did have Native American ancestors, would that make it a little more acceptable for me to use Native American stories and symbols for artistic inspiration? I don't know. It feels as if I'm stretching, as if I'm trying to find a handhold to grasp a door that isn't mine to open. I don't know.
Who knows how we make all of our decisions in life, and who knows for sure whether we make the right ones when the details are inspected? For now, I will keep toying with the art in my books about North and South American native cultures. I'll keep toying with ways to let my inspiration flow without overstepping boundaries... who knows, who knows.


Deb said...

It's beautiful Ang!

You know I don't think there is a right or wrong of it, any of what you have said.

What you have related resonates with me, as it is the same here. I've read the other side of the Maori story... the people were of the land, no one owned it.

I feel the same about the Maori art as you do about the Native American art. They have suffered plagiarism from huge international companies putting Maori designs on surfboards & ski gear.

All I can come up with for myself is this;

It calls to us, strikes a chord within us & as artists we intend to honour their culture, art & traditions.

Companies that mass produce replicas of indigenous art, or use tribal designs on products don't intend to honour anyone (unless of course they have sought permission first). Their sole intention is not to create or honour, but to make a profit.

angelinabeadalina said...

Deb, I had forgotten about the Maori when I was writing this, but it is the same dilemma, isn't it? Someone told me about the Maori about four years ago, and I was fascinated with everything I saw when I looked them up on the internet. The creation story, the tattooing, etc., all lead a creative person to want to create more. I know I made some Maori inspired beads with names of the earth and sky deities (Rangi? Papa?).

I can understand wanting to protect your culture, especially from people totally unrelated to it who simply intend to cash in on its popularity.

I think because we celebrate diversity nowadays, and because we have easier access to information about other cultures and religions, there are going to be times when we find things totally unrelated to ourselves by blood which feel totally related to our soul.

I think you hit the answer on the head. Intention is pretty much the only standard for determining right or wrong here. Of course, everyone has their own view of where that line is... so all we as artists can do is hope our intentions are seen as honorable from other perspectives.