Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Culture Catcher

Okay so let’s just get this straight at the outset. This thing I’ve made – you think it’s pretty tacky, huh? Well I should hope so! I’ve made this dream catcher as part of the Feather Your Nest exhibition to be shown at Gleaners inc as part of the Craft Victoria's Craft Cubed   events. My inspiration came from reading an open letter Sasha Houston Brown wrote to Urban Outfitters, published  on the racialicious blog, protesting the use of Native American Indian designs and patterns labelled" “Navajo” in their range of clothes and accessories.

It’s a fantastic letter. Here's a section:

“In all seriousness, as a Native American woman, I am deeply distressed by your company’s mass marketed collection of distasteful and racially demeaning apparel and décor. I take personal offense to the blatant racism and perverted cultural appropriation your store features this season as “fashion.”
All too often industries, sports teams and ignorant individuals legitimize racism under the guise of cultural “appreciation”. There is nothing honorable or historically appreciative in selling items such as the Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask, Peace Treaty Feather Necklace, Staring at Stars Skull Native Headdress T-shirt or the Navajo Hipster Panty. These and the dozens of other tacky products you are currently selling referencing Native America make a mockery of our identity and unique cultures."
So. My culture catcher piece is about how we westerners don’t hesitate to appropriate other cultural totems and designs and incorporate them in fashion, commercial enterprises, fashion or our western crafts without any consideration for the cultural significance they may have to the indigenous culture of origin. The dream catcher is the perfect example. It’s been adopted by white people and western cultures through the New Age movement and transformed from a Native American spiritual totem to a tacky accessory. If you search “dream catcher” on etsy there are over 150 pages of results. Are all of these made with sensitivity to the cultural and spiritual meaning of the object?

To amplify this in my piece I wanted to use synthetic and tacky western things and techniques. I used chains and links to join things. Made glitter pom poms and used fringing trim and synthetic flouro rope. Add in some plastic love hearts and then the plastic sequins are the icing on the cake. Within the tackiness I also wanted my piece to be interesting so I must admit to quite liking my flouro string fake feathers made with crochet chain over wire and a winding technique.

How do we feel when our spiritual symbols are used for commercial items or fashion. Is the crucifix in this category for Christians? Where do designers draw the line between inspiration and appropriation? When does it matter? And what if this happened in Australia? As I discovered from this very insightful article by Samantha McHugh on IP Whiteboard, “Australian labels Sportsgirl, Country Road, Cooper St, Samvara and Tigerlily, to name but a few, have previously featured items with the word ‘Navajo’ in the style-name” . She also goes on to analyse what would happen legally if this happened in Australia with our indigenous people's cultural symbols and designs, who do not have the same legal framework and protections that the Navajo people have with their trademark.

I think the significance with the appropriation of indigenous cultural designs, taken and used inappropriately, is that these cultures are already disenfranchised. They have been disrespected – thrown off their lands and suffered the genocidal policies of colonisation. What do they have left bit their cultural identity? As Sasha Houston Brown concludes: 

“Urban Outfitters Inc. has taken Indigenous life ways and artistic expressions and trivialized and sexualized them for the sake of corporate profit. It is this kind of behavior that perpetuates the stereotype of the white man’s Indian and allows for the ongoing commodification of an entire ethnic group. Just as our traditional homelands were stolen and expropriated without regard, so too has our very cultural identity."

So I hope you all find my dream catcher pretty bloody awful! I might add some more pom poms.....


  1. I think you've managed to capture the tackiness perfectly!

    1. Shou;d I worry that tackiness comes so easily???

  2. Fascinating. Great concept and great tacky dream catcher!

    1. Having a five year old girl who loves all things tacky and pretty helped. Although she thinks it needs ribbon bows and more sparkles!!!