Can anyone own a style?

Another, more detailed account of Amanda PL’s exhibit and the objections to it.

An art gallery in Leslieville has cancelled an upcoming exhibit after receiving complaints that works by a Toronto artist are offensive to Indigenous people.

The artist, who goes by the name of Amanda PL, in an April 26 email interview with The Beach Mirror, said her work is influenced by the Woodland style, an art form practiced by Aboriginal artist Norval Morrisseau. She recently rented Visions Gallery at 1114 Queen St E. for a guest-artist exhibit: The show titled Nature’s Landscape was set to run from Wednesday, May 10 to Sunday, May 14.

She rented the gallery; that’s an important detail that wasn’t in the other story.

“Within less than a day we started getting responses. We hadn’t anticipated any issues when we agreed to exhibit the work,” said the new gallery’s co-owner Tony Magee, who said they’ve received “several” emails and phone calls from people concerned about the upcoming exhibition.

Magee, who also lives in the neighbourhood, said they “took the matter very seriously” and have individually responded to every email and phone call.

“We respect the experience, culture and perspective of Indigenous people,” he told The Beach Mirror.

But does any of that add up to a veto on other people’s art works? Even if the works are derivative?

Amanda PL said she’s been “flooded with harassment’s (sic) and emails from the Aboriginal community in the last few days to protest against my art work, closing down the opening of my first solo art exhibition scheduled for May 12.”

“Although influenced (by Morrisseau), my art is original and the intention of the style was to express Canada’s true roots, and capture its naturally beautiful landscapes.”

I wonder if there could have been a solution short of closing down her exhibit. I wonder if for instance a prominently placed tribute to Morisseau with (duly permitted) images of his work and gratitude for his inspiration would have been acceptable.

I don’t think cultures should be sealed off. Of course there’s a huge power imbalance between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada and elsewhere, but I don’t think forbidding non-indigenous people to draw inspiration from indigenous art is a great fix for that.

Upper Beach resident Nancy King, an Anishinaabe artist who is also known by her spirit name Chief Lady Bird, was one of the people who spoke out against the exhibit.

King, who grew up in Rama First Nation, first learned about Amanda PL a couple of months ago from posts on Instagram. She also said she watched a YouTube video with the artist explaining her work.

“It was a kind of infuriating interview,” said King, who right away noticed that the artist didn’t list her Nation on her work, which she said is a common practice for Indigenous artists.

King also alleges Amanda PL’s pieces “looked suspiciously” like Morrisseau’s work.

Initially, she didn’t approach the artist with her concerns until fellow artist Chippewar informed her that Amanda PL was going to be exhibiting her pieces in Leslieville.

“When I saw that, I thought, ‘I don’t think so.’ I lost it. I felt compelled to speak out. I have a following of people who can stop this,” said King, who also shared her thoughts on social media.

“The response was amazing. People started calling the gallery.”

Hmm, yeah, amazing, but maybe not in a good way.

King said she would still like to speak with the artist face to face and help her better understand why culturally appropriating Indigenous art is wrong and hurtful.

“It trivializes our art, our experience, and our culture,” she said, pointing to Canadian art collector and collector Robert McMichael who said Morrisseau painted Anishinaabe stories that were passed down to him from elders around Lake Superior.

Maybe…or maybe it alerts people to its existence? Or maybe there’s some of both?

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