By the Generation Q Magazine staff
There are many brou-ha-has broiling on Facebook of late (eye roll), but the one involving uber-popular Tula Pink and her soon-to-be-released collection of Native American-themed prints has really grabbed our hearts.
Tula’s Spirit Animal collection by FreeSpirit Fabrics is scheduled for release in September. The main print in the collection showcased (note use of past tense) a luscious, beautifully illustrated Native American figure wearing a traditional feather headdress.
The problem arose when some people (we’re not sure if they are Native American tribal members themselves or friends of members or simply concerned citizens) posted on Tula’s Facebook page that they were upset with her usage of the head-dressed Native American on her centerpiece fabric. They insisted she not use this fabric in the collection, and accused her of cultural misappropriation.
The premise behind their complaint is that Tula does not have the right to use the image of the headdress, which is a revered traditional symbol among some Native American tribes and, we’re told, is only used by those who have earned the right to wear a headdress. Tula’s use of this image is a desecration to Native American tribes concerned with protecting their cultural heritage and traditions. Tula, these critics said, should not be using this image at all.
So, here’s a problem: Tula is herself of Native American ancestry. How much and to what extent we don’t know, but it was her pride in her heritage that led her to design this collection in the first place. Through its prints, she is telling the story of and celebrating her background. As artists have done, oh, forever.
And here’s another problem: The way this very small group of naysayers approached and attacked Tula over her art, which led her to pull the main fabric out of the collection altogether. About a dozen people posted their angst over the fabric on Tula’s Facebook page, and some were far more strident than others. Here’s just one:
“It’s disheartening to see yet another textile company using sacred imagery to be trendy. I hope you really absorb the words of the people whom you have hurt. I look forward to seeing the announcement that production of this cultural MISappropriation will be swiftly halted,” writes Sasha Boaz on Facebook.
This gang mentality, complete with name-calling and accompanied by Internet links to articles on extreme websites explaining and opposing cultural misappropriation, is a classic example of bullying, via social media in this case.
There is no place in our Q-niverse for bullies or bullying. In any form. From any source. For any reason.
While concerns over the use of cultural imagery may be valid, where have those concerns been for the past two years+ as fabrics and patterns with teepees and arrows have trended in the marketplace? Where has the outrage over sugar skulls been? They are culturally significant in Mexican culture. How does this “cultural misappropriation” affect the Nordic designs that (spoiler alert!) will be trending at the upcoming Spring International Quilt Market? There are many cultures in our world. How do we decide if an act of art celebrates a culture or merely profits off its imagery?
This whole issue seems to have been poorly handled. Apparently, none of the complainants actually asked Tula about her artistic decisions. She was figuratively tarred and feathered (pun intended) with little chance to speak for herself. Except that after she published her eloquent response on Facebook, and gave her reasons for pulling the fabric, more than 1,000 people wrote in support of her, many begging her to put the fabric back into the collection. She demurred.
“I am proud of my father’s heritage and am grateful for the richness of culture that he passed onto me. I wanted to honor that crucial part of myself in the same way that I had in previous collections. I am saddened that I have to defend this here and in this way,” she writes.
Because her art is the way she shares her thoughts and feelings–and not a vehicle for making people uncomfortable–she writes that she has asked FreeSpirit to pull the main print from this collection. But there is price.
“I have chosen not to replace this print but to let it stand as is with a piece of its heart missing,” she concludes.
FreeSpirit Fabrics, which manufactures Tula’s designs, is planning to release a corporate statement on this controversy at some future point. However, FreeSpirit’s marketing official Nancy Jewell says that to the best of her knowledge, this is the first time anything like this has ever happened at the company.
Now it’s time to step back a little. When we gather up the pitchforks to point out a perceived wrong in the marketplace, we really need to look at the larger picture. Are we raising awareness in the industry as a whole? Or are we making one person stand trial for the wrongs of a nation? And, honestly, who died and made us the (Cultural Image) Quilt Police?
What’s saddest is that there is room for discussion and education on the core issue of when art should yield to protecting cultural heritage and tradition. Why shouldn’t we honor and respect the wishes of those who claim ownership of symbols that are important to their group? Unfortunately, when discussions about protecting cultural imagery are shouted down by uncivil confrontation, it takes everyone who cares out of the conversation.
So here’s one more question for debate: Is there a dotted line dividing cultural misappropriation and inspiration? When does protectionism overrule the mystery of creative vision and an artist’s freedom to create?
Now that’s a conversation worth having.
Quilt. Sew. Live. Breathe.