A young Canadian artist was about to have an exhibition of her paintings at a gallery in Toronto.

Visions Gallery had planned to showcase the work of Amanda PL, 29, a local non-Indigenous artist who says she was inspired by the Woodlands style made famous by the Anishinabe artist Norval Morrisseau beginning in the ’60s, with a focus on nature, animals and Indigenous spirituality.

But within hours of the gallery’s email announcement promoting the exhibit, there was a backlash, with people alleging that PL had appropriated Indigenous culture and art.

So the gallery canceled the exhibit.

Chippewa artist Jay Soule was among those leading the charge. He argues PL blatantly copied Morrisseau with virtually no regard for the storytelling behind his work.

“What she’s doing is essentially cultural genocide, because she’s taking his stories and retelling them, which bastardizes it down the road. Other people will see her work and they’ll lose the connection between the real stories that are attached to it,” said Soule.

No doubt some will, but that happens with everything. People see what they see, read what they read, listen to what they listen to. All art has sources and influences. If you try to shut down art that has influences, there will be no art left, except what people create for their own enjoyment. Since Amanda PL is explicit about what inspired her, the chances are good that she would have motivated new people to find the work of Norval Morrisseau.

PL said she first became inspired by the Woodlands style when she was living in Thunder Bay, Ont., studying to become a visual arts teacher and taking Native studies.

“I just tried to learn all I could about the Aboriginal culture, their teachings, their stories, and I’ve tried to capture the beauty of the art style and make it my own by drawing upon elements of nature within Canada that have meaning to me,” she told CBC Toronto in an interview Friday.

Which is what artists and other culture purveyors do. It’s an inherent and crucial part of cultural conversation, and it’s a good thing, not a bad one. If Amanda PL were pretending she’d invented the style that would be appropriation, but she isn’t.

Visions Gallery co-owner Tony Magee acknowledged PL didn’t misrepresent herself to him or his partner, artist Francisco Castro Lostalo, in their conversations ahead of the planned exhibit.

Magee said it never came up, and he didn’t think to ask whether she was Indigenous. “In retrospect, I wish that I had,” he said in a phone interview Friday.

It was only after the exhibit was announced on Monday that he learned PL was not Indigenous.

Ok what are the rules here? If PL is not allowed to incorporate indigenous styles in her painting, does that mean that Indigenous painters are not allowed to incorporate European styles in theirs?

If artists aren’t allowed to incorporate styles of artists of the Wrong Race, that means they should avoid looking at art by people of the Wrong Race, doesn’t it? Maybe that means they should be forcibly prevented from looking at it, just to be safe? No Rembrandt or Vermeer or Velasquez for you First Nations peeps; no Frida Kahlo for you gringos; NO MIXING for anyone.

You can see some of her work here.

The Lake by Amanda PL

The Lake

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