Blatant cultural appropriation / art theft of Aboriginal artwork

Community Beginner ,
Mar 17, 2022 Mar 17, 2022

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I'm not sure where else to post about this or who to email (after spending about 30 mins searching online for Adobe Stock complaints, support etc).

I was looking for images of Australian plants and came across some "Aboriginal art" by this contributor:

https://stock.adobe.com/au/contributor/206413587/rashmisingh

I get that there's *probably* nothing illegal going on here, but from a moral/ethical standpoint this is really not okay. I'm not sure if this contributor genuinely doesn't see a problem with what they are doing, because they appear to be from India so maybe they just don't understand the cultural sensitivities around using Aboriginal art styles, and the associated history (colonialism, oppresion, wilful destruction of culture and communities etc). For transparency's sake I should mention I'm not Aboriginal, but feel the need to say something in case no one else does.

Seems like she sells across multiple websites so I know this is just a drop in the ocean but still, not okay.

On her Twitter account she shares a lot of posts from "HelloVector" which I'm guessing is also a site she contributes to.... and they have an "Aboriginal Art" section.

https://twitter.com/itsrashmi_singh

https://www.hellovector.com/aboriginal-art

Also came across this... https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sure-steal-aboriginal-art-its-only-our-culture-hogarth-arts-australia...

Rant over.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 17, 2022 Mar 17, 2022

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Sadly, you are correct that cultural appropriation happens all too frequently and although there may be nothing illegal, it is morally questionable and certainly insensitive.  However, if there are specific images that the IP rights holder believes are an infringement, there is a process to register a complaint.

 

Here is the link:  https://www.adobe.com/legal/dmca.html

 

You may also contact Adobe Customer Care here  https://helpx.adobe.com/contact.html  with your concerns.  There is a chat icon in the bottom right corner of the screen.  Cookies need to be enabled and pop-up blockers need to be disabled.  If you can't see the icon, try a different web browser.  When the chat begins, you can type AGENT to chat with a person without going through the automated chat function.

 

adobe chat help.jpg

 

Thank you for bringing your concerns forward. 


Rob R, Photographer

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 17, 2022 Mar 17, 2022

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@AkaneNintendo,

No disrespect intended and maybe I'm missing something but I don't get what's "not okay."  Dots, spirals, circles and snakes are ubiquitous motifs.  They're frequently found in ethnic textiles and art from various cultures.  

 

Cultural appropriation refers to the misuse of objects of a non-dominant culture in a way that reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression and doesn't respect their original meaning.   A good example is Jan 6th insurrectionist, Jacob Chansley (aka the QAnon shaman) the day he stormed the US Capitol dressed like this:

 

Source: CNBC NewsSource: CNBC News

 

Nancy O'Shea, Adobe Product User & Community Professional
Alt-Web Design & Publishing ~ Web : Print : Graphics : Media

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 17, 2022 Mar 17, 2022

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Hi @Nancy OShea, to me one of the biggest issues is having non-Indigenous or non-Aboriginal people misrepresenting their art as being authentic.  If they are not part of that culture, they cannot understand the history, importance, tradition nor sacredness of what they are creating.  Yet, they commercialise it and can make a profit all the while perpetuating stereotypes and often preventing true Indigenous artists from being able to sell their own works and make a living.

 

It's a fine line between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation and usually the difference is in whether both parties are benefiting or if there is a power imbalance.  Personally, I grew up in a remote small community in northern Canada with many Indigenous people in the area.  I remember in junior high school, having a Saulteaux elder come in and teach us how to make moccasins.  The moccasins were basic and easy to make.  However, she had stories about the bead work and decorations all of the meanings behind the types of designs, bead colours used, etc.  That was a great cultural exchange.  When the local department store started selling mass produced moccasins from non-Indigenous sources, the local women couldn't produce their hand sewn moccasins as cheaply.  Definitely cultural appropriation because the store was profitting and taking away the business from local Indigenous people.

 

Thinking about stock images and vectors, having non-Indigenous people create art with dots, spirals, circles and snakes is perfectly fine if they are doing it in their own unique way and not imitating or stealing from another culture.  A lot of these cultural images have sacred meanings and it is really offensive to that culture to see people walking around with those images on a t-shirt or on a coffee mug. The offending artist wouldn't know they are being offensive, because they don't understand the history or meanings of the images.

 

The fact that cultural appropriation is so common in music, fashion, art, sometimes makes it difficult for us to recognise the insensitivity to those people who's culture is being stolen and used as a disposable trend.

 

To quote Dr. Niigan Sinclair, "The difference between appropriation and appreciation of Indigenous culture is that the former is “theft based on power and privilege,” whereas the latter is “engagement based on responsibility and ethics."

 

Your example of Jacob Chansley is an excellent example of cultural appropriation.  Dreamcatchers are certainly another blatant example.  In Canada and Australia, there may be more a heightened awareness of cultural appropriation due to our dark pasts with colonisation and mistreatment of the Indigenous people and the desire to better now.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada made numerous recommendations and cultural appropriation is on the list of things that we as a culture need to work on.

 

That's my take on cultural appropriation.


Rob R, Photographer

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 18, 2022 Mar 18, 2022

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Some interesting comments so far.

 

Sadly, the US is no less guilty of oppressing indigenous people.  By some accounts, the earliest use of bio-warfare was the Nessus Shirt (smallpox infected garments / blankets) distributed to native peoples by white Europeans. Whether folklore or an historically accurate story, I can't say for sure. But there is no doubt that our ancestors knowingly committed terrible acts against native people for which adequate contrition will take centuries.    

 

To Rob's point about the commercialized production of moccasins,  the same thing is happening to mom & pop shops and artisan craftsmen/women everywhere.  

 

US consumers can choose to buy authentic Mukluks from Aboriginal -owned business, mukluk inspired Uggs from US-based Decker Brands or cheap Muk Luk knockoffs from China.  I'm guessing it's the same in Canada & Australia.

 

I see no way to legislate consumer buying habits. But I'm all for educating consumers about the differences between them.   Authentic Mukluks are crafted from real animal skins. Uggs and Muk Luk knockoffs are synthetic.  So does cultural appropriation really apply here?

 

 

Nancy O'Shea, Adobe Product User & Community Professional
Alt-Web Design & Publishing ~ Web : Print : Graphics : Media

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Community Beginner ,
Mar 19, 2022 Mar 19, 2022

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Hi Nancy,

 

Thanks for your reply, I guess after thinking about it more, I think the main reason I took issue and reacted how I did is because the way that Aboriginal art is viewed in Australia (at least where I live) is that it is a special thing with great cultural and spiritual significance, and it's generally accepted that the creation of that artwork is reserved for Aboriginal people. There's so many things that have been taken away (eg language) so that's one of the reasons it's respected as something that Aboriginal own so to speak. I mean, I'm not an academic and can't speak on behalf of Aboriginal people but that's just my personal feeling and what I have experienced on my community. Where I live, if you want to use Aboriginal artwork for something you either work directly with an artist or at least consult with an organisation that specialises in that area. 

I found an interesting quote on this article

https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/arts/are-dot-paintings-traditional-aboriginal-art

 

 I agree with you in the sense that simply using dots, and geometric patterns etc in itself is not cultural appropriation. It's just when they are trying to copy the style to imitate the work, and basically given the context it seems like they are trying to pass it off as "genuine".

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 19, 2022 Mar 19, 2022

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Good article about the dots.  I think it's fascinating that modern Aboriginal artists use the dots to camouflage underlying sacred symbolism. 

 

Source: Roy Lichtenstein Foundation https://lichtensteinfoundation.org/Source: Roy Lichtenstein Foundation https://lichtensteinfoundation.org/

 

Nancy O'Shea, Adobe Product User & Community Professional
Alt-Web Design & Publishing ~ Web : Print : Graphics : Media

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 18, 2022 Mar 18, 2022

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Hello,

One mistake maybe is you are assuming that this person lives in India. Just because the person has an Indian name does not mean to say they live in India. There are many people of Indian descent who live in Australia and who are Australian citizens. Judging a book by its cover here comes to mind.

Also, one doesn't have to be ethnically from the culture in question to understand its meaning if they have studied the culture in question.

Personally, I don't think that this comes under cultural appropriation. @Nancy OShea  has defined cultural appropriation well:

 

"Cultural appropriation refers to the misuse of objects of a non-dominant culture in a way that reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression and doesn't respect their original meaning."

 

I don't think it applies here.

As in the example of the Jan 6th dude - this applies.

Tattoos of Buddha would definitely come under this!! In Thailand, it is forbidden!

 

 

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 18, 2022 Mar 18, 2022

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Hi @ricky336 I wasn't assuming this person was from India, on the links in @AkaneNintendo original post, her Linked In account she identifies herself as from Banglor, India.  I do agree with your point though that one shouldn't make assumptions based on the person's name.

 

My comments weren't specifically geared at this instance, as I do not know enough about this particular artist nor the Australian Aboriginal culture.  I was talking more generally about cultural appropriation and sharing my understanding of the issue with the Canadian Indigenous Peoples.

 

quote

Also, one doesn't have to be ethnically from the culture in question to understand its meaning if they have studied the culture in question.

 

By @ricky336

 

You're right, but one would hope that by truly understanding the culture, you would also understand that it isn't right for you to misrepresent your art that you take from that culture. 

 

There is a project at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada that really focuses on this issue.  IPinCH Intellectual Property Issues in Cultural Heritage:  Theory, Practice, Policy and Ethics http://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/

They are a great resource for better understanding this issue.

 

Here is an excerpt from this link: http://www.sfu.ca/ipinch/sites/default/files/resources/teaching_resources/think_before_you_appropria...

 

With all of this in mind, we encourage you to think before you appropriate by asking yourself the following questions:


Does my project truly require the use of Indigenous cultural
heritage?


Am I basing my work on accurate knowledge and
representations of Indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage?


Am I sure that my work in no way reproduces stereotypes
about Indigenous peoples?


Am I sure that my work does not show disrespect for the
beliefs and worldviews of the Indigenous peoples whose cultural heritage inspires me?


If the answer to any of the first five [sic] questions is either
“no” or “I don’t know” then we recommend that you halt your use of Indigenous cultural heritage.


Rob R, Photographer

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 18, 2022 Mar 18, 2022

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Hi @reedesign1912 ,

My post was in answer in general to the OP, not directly to you.

 

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Community Beginner ,
Mar 19, 2022 Mar 19, 2022

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Hi Ricky,

 

I agree with your points, I think I saw on her Twitter or website she was from a city in India which is why I assumed that  not just from her name (lots of different nationalities here so fair call).

 

After writing the original post I was also thinking about the fact that I'm writing from a position of being a white person and generally pretty privileged.  I know the whole thing is complicated - who am I to criticise someone who's just trying to earn a living.

 

I think the thing that bothered me about the images were that most of them seem to be trying to copy particular motifs rather than generally drawing inspiration, to the point of trying to pass it off as the "real thing". It could be genuinely a case of not understanding how it can be offensive to some people. And maybe I'm overreacting too, I guess I just wanted to say something about it, and it's been interesting reading everyone's comments.

Thanks

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