Some say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Others call it cultural appropriation.
Take the case of Canadian artist Amanda PL, for instance. The Toronto artist paints in a distinct style governed by assertive lines and striking bold colors. “Much of my inspiration is formed by how I have experienced the natural landscapes around me and the ones travelled through,” she says.
The artist’s works are experiential renderings which materialize in a phantasmagorical space. The fauna inextricably bound to North America’s landscape are the subject of many pieces by Amanda PL. She acknowledges several indigenous, as well as Western European artists, as artistic influences. The one bringing the most controversy is the influence drawn upon by the works of Norval Morriseau, an indigenous Canadian artist who popularized the idiosyncratic Woodlands art style. The Woodlands art style is one of three styles of predominant schools of indigenous art, unique to artists surrounding the Great Lakes area. Jay Soule, a Chippewa artist, even says that Amanda PL’s works bastardizes the storytelling significance of Morriseau’s style.
Indigenous activists forced Visions Gallery to cancel a scheduled exhibition featuring the artist’s paintings. The opening reception of Amanda PL’s Nature’s Landscapes at a Toronto gallery was set to take place on May 12. Within hours of sending an email promoting the exhibition, the gallery received a deluge of criticism citing PL’s work as a form of cultural appropriation. The gallery’s decision to pull the exhibition was swift and hasty.
In a hemisphere where a mélange of cultures forms the national identity of nations from Canada to Argnetina, we ask why this is an exception? Here is an artist acknowledging her inspiration from a style and producing her own work. She neither parodies nor debases the Woodlands style. The timeline of art itself has been a series of artists drawing upon the work of their predecessors, and channelling it through the prism of their own experience and consciousness. Even Picasso took inspiration from African masks and applied the fragmented style to the faces of two models portrayed in the painting. The painting was met with much controversy but is now lauded as a force in the development of modern art. Development is always one step outside of the area of comfort, and in a time when political correctness is more arresting than ever, it serves to stunt the development of artistic expression.