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Jewelry and "Cultural Property"


#1
Almost all jewelers sell religious pieces, and not all jewelers
are religious. Some may sell modern design or ancient design. 

I pulled this out of the “Ain’t no biz!” thread
https://orchid.ganoksin.com/t/biz-talk-aint-no-biz

because it relates directly to a question that’s been bugging me for
quite some time.

I have a line of jewelry (which I hope to expand dramatically in the
near future) based on amulets, talismans, and other doodads from
cultures around the world. I love the idea of talismans and other
"meaningful" adornments and have always had an interest in
comparative mythology. Right now, though, I’m in a bit of a moral
pickle because I want to make a hei-tiki to add to my line. I mean,
really want to…I have modified the design of an old original
carved from human skull bone, and I love this thing. I’m fascinated
by the history and living culture of the Maori and the significance
of the hei-tiki. My quandary is this: I don’t want to offend any
Maori people, and I don’t want to be accused of “stealing” or
exploiting anyone’s culture.

Likewise, as a non-Jew (secular humanist, actually), can or should I
make mezuzahs and menorahs, as I admire and respect their symbolism
and their place in Jewish life? What about medicine wheels, or
various and sundry Hindu deities?

I’m not asking permission in all this, as I know that, legally
speaking, it’s my right as an artist to make and to offer up for
sale pretty much anything I want to. I’d really just like to know
what all you wise people think of this, and if you’ve encountered
similar situations or dilemmas in your own work.

Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts,

Jessee Smith
www.silverspotstudio.com
Cincinnati, OH


#2

May I expand this one?

In my travels, I have come across Religious symbolism no nos. Yet I
see some of these very symbols used in a line of jewelry. I know one
designer is unaware of what is considered lack of respect.

What is the consensus of opinion on this?

Terrie


#3

As a Pagan who makes several varieties of rosaries, I understand
where you are coming from.

So long as you are respectful of the religions that you are borrowing
from in your jewelry, I don’t see the harm. Respect is the key,
though. When I sell a rosary, it’s with the disclosure that they are
not consecrated, and that if the buyer wants them for religious
purposes, then they should see their priest.

Elizabeth Schechter
RFX Studios


#4
of the hei-tiki. My quandary is this: I don't want to offend any
Maori people, and I don't want to be accused of "stealing" or
exploiting anyone's culture. legally speaking, it's my right as an
artist to make and to offer up for sale pretty much anything I want
to. 

hi Jessee, i know that in this country (Australia) it is not legal
to produce any artwork like aboriginal dot paintings, for example,
unless you are one of the aboriginal custodians of that particular
"Dreaming", and I understand that this relates also to certain forms
of tribal jewellery. I am no expert on this, but an excellent book “
Given - Jewellery by Warwick Freeman” 2004 published by Starform, 6
Waterview Rd, Devonport,Aukland New Zealand, 1309, ISBN 0-476-00427-6

gives a great insight to the making of jewellery in New Zealand,
especially using forms based on Maori motives by a non Maori (
Pakeha). I highly recommend this book to you, very interesting and
good images.

Cultural appropriation can be a minefield, no matter what the
original motivations, good luck with your inspiration, Christine in
Sth Aust.


#5
When I sell a rosary, it's with the disclosure that they are not
consecrated, and that if the buyer wants them for religious
purposes, then they should see their priest. 

Um, is there any non-religious purpose for a rosary? Wearing a rosary
as a necklace is sacrilegious, according to my devout Catholic
friend.

Elaine

Elaine Luther
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
http://www.CreativeTextureTools.com
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay


#6
In my travels, I have come across Religious symbolism no nos. 

Having been raised with and around Native Americans since
birth…long story, and no I am not Native…not even a little
Cherokee…lol…and although I certainly won’t speak for everyone,
or even anyone, I can say with some confidence that if you want to
earn Native Americans’ serious disdain if not outright disgust, go
ahead and co-opt their religious symbology. Prayer wheels, dream
catchers…whatever. At least as far as my friends and extended
family are concerned, if ya ain’t native, just don’t do it. Its not
appreciated.

Lisa ,(My Uncle Jim is on the board of the Heard, the Southwest
Museum, and sometimes juries Indian Marketin Santa Fe. Plus, he has a
massive collection of Native American art…So…you wonder how I
started making jewelry?) Topanga, CA USA


#7

Hello,

I know the no-no’s in regards to Christian/Catholic jewelry, but what
are no-no’s in regards to other religions? Just curious, I’d like to
learn more about this issue.

Susannah


#8

Hello Jesse,

Excellent question and a very ethical approach. As a Christian, I
have no problem with a non-Christian making a cross or other
religious symbol. The meaning of the symbol is internal to the owner.
Even symbols that are restricted use to a group (like the Masons),
have to be made by someone.

You are not claiming to be Maori or First Nation or Hindu or
whatever. You are expressing your interest in and admiration for the
culture behind the symbol. Sounds like a positive thing that could
bring about increased awareness of the culture.

IMHO, go ahead,
Judy in Kansas


#9
Um, is there any non-religious purpose for a rosary? Wearing a
rosary as a necklace is sacrilegious, according to my devout
Catholic friend. 

Some people collect them. Not for prayer, just to have because they
like the stones and the workmanship. I’d say more than half of my
rosary sales are to collectors.

Elizabeth Schechter
RFX Studios


#10
I know the no-no's in regards to Christian/Catholic jewelry, 

What are they?


#11

Sometimes very strict adherents to a cultural tenet or a religious
belief take umbrage at its adoption by a non-believer. They assume
that it will be put to profane use by said person, and they regard
that as an ultimate desecration of their sacred symbol. Perhaps they
should pause and consider that nobody is going to try to use a symbol
such as a dream-catcher for any other purpose than that for which it
was originally intended: (if it worked for these guys, maybe I should
try it for my bad dreams).

My take on this is that if people deliberately profane someone
else’s sacred symbols, they will reap their just rewards at the hands
of the profanee sometime in this life or the next.

However, if they do this out of innocence or ignorance, they should
be enlightened as to what they are messing with, and how and why what
they do is offensive. Raising a person’s consciousness is much more
effective than punching him in the nose.

That having been said,…you’d be surprised at how many requests
I’ve had for any kind of wearable talisman to ward off the ‘evil
eye’.

I believe that most people who adopt a talisman or symbol from
another culture or belief, do so out of desperation, when they feel
that all their current relisious efforts to deal with a problem have
been inadequate…so they borrow from somebody else’s. It’s just
insurance, or hopefully, better medicine, not blasphemy. Be kind.

Dee


#12

Jesse,

Your question is fascinating. Having done considerable research into
symbol systems, world religions, and esoteric belief systems which
create metaphor in order to speak to a collective unconscious… I
feel that if you can bestow upon the object you are creating the same
reverence a culturally indigenous person would, then I don’t think
anyone could accuse you of exploitation. Meaningful adornments
acquire their meaning through the intent of their maker.

If you are making copies of “doodads” for profit with little other
thought in mind then you will be creating the problem you fear.

Alternatively, you could do more research into the primary meaning
of the sacred object or symbol, find other universal symbols that
concur then by applying your own cultural voice to the meaning,
create a new symbol.

This is, to my mind, the very essence of jewelry making.

Nanz Aalund
Associate Editor / Art Jewelry magazine
21027 Crossroads Circle / Waukesha WI 53187-1612
262.796.8776 ext.228


#13

Hello Jessee

I’s not with jewelry making that I came across cultural goods but I
think what I tell you is compareble.

I gues it differs per individual. How they stand in “stealing culture
that you are not part of”.

I’m a singer of Irish ballads. I sing (and play) in an Irish session
in a pub. I’m not Irish In fact I’ve never even been there.

Now her it comes. Because of me not beeing Irish, We (not only me
but the other musisians to) where told: I’f she sings one more time
all of you can go. She is not to sing our cultural goods. The funny
thing however was that a costumar who overheard this came up with an
offer to go and play in another (irish) pub the nekst week
but…we could only come if “the singer was to come aswell”

This is 10 years ago now. I still sing and come across this issue
once in a while. But I get on the other side people who are really
exited over the fact that a “forrener” is willing to sing their
songs

I am verry curious what other reactions you will get on your
question.

Good luck in making up your mind
Nicky
http://home.planet.nl/~grego079


#14
That having been said,...you'd be surprised at how many requests
I've had for any kind of wearable talisman to ward off the 'evil
eye'. 

Ooooh Dee… Many of the Armenian jewelry workers in Los Angeles have
these cool lampworked glass eye charms to do just that. I have one
just in case. One of my Armenian pals gave it to me.

Non-native dreamcatchers won’t be of much use as the ritual
attendant on something such as that most likely won’t be adhered to
as non Natives won’t have a clue. Or at best, they will have half a
clue.

Only thing I am superstitious about, “fun” native symbols made by
non Natives. Won’t touch the stuff personally. Interesting that
Christians don’t seem as proprietary about their symbols as other
cultures. Pretty easy going it seems.

Lisa,(Its going to rain again this week. Enough already!!!) Topanga,
CA USA


#15

I know the no-no’s in regards to Christian/Catholic jewelry,

What are they? 

Basically, you’re not supposed to wear a rosary. My mother always
told me to tuck my cross discreetly inside my shirt, but I don’t
think this counts as a “no-no” for everyone else.

And bishops wear bishop’s rings - you can’t walk into a jewelry
store and order one for Christmas, I don’t think.

These are the jewelry things I remember, I’m out of practice.

Susannah


#16
You are not claiming to be Maori or First Nation or Hindu or
whatever. You are expressing your interest in and admiration for
the culture behind the symbol. Sounds like a positive thing that
could bring about increased awareness of the culture. 

I dance around this fire all the time, doing designs based on
ancient patterns and symbols. At one craft fair that I showed at,
there was even a demonstration by people of color who were against
Cultural Appropriation. This led me to create my Viking Collection,
one of the most popular and profitable collections of jewelry I have
ever designed! But I decided years before that not to put designs out
on the market that are the cultural property of a minority group,
such as Native Americans, especially if they also make jewelry. I
feel that they, not I, should be sought out to purchase such items
from. I have made native symbols at the request of natives who wanted
to commission them from me. One of my pieces even rests in the grave
of a notable local medicine man. But I will not make “Indian jewelry"
to put out for sale to the public. I think it would be very wrong for
me to do so. There is plenty of real, Native made jewelry available
on the market. I have local Native folks buying my eagle and deer and
bear amulets all the time, but I have been careful to design them
myself without relying on any Native silversmiths’ styles. I believe
they want them because the pieces evoke deer or bear, not because
they look like 'Indian jewelry”.

The Native American question is fairly easy for me, but what about
some other cultures? I am thinking of doing some design around the
Hand of Fatima, an Islamic symbol, that would incorporate the idea
of Peace into the design. I feel that this would be a very positive
concept in today’s world. But I know very little about the culture
or its traditions of possibly protecting designs. I do know that I
saw a hand design clearly derived from it that someone brought back
from Israel and she told me it was something like the Hand of Peace
(or something), never knowing that it was Islamic derived. So someone
in Israel is selling them with a different story than what I have
read in design books. Hmmm, interesting. Sounds a little suspicious
to me. I will make up my own mind on this one, but input about the
Hand of Fatima is welcome. I do know that Fatima was the daughter of
Mohammed. I will do more research before proceeding to design.

I would not have a problem making a commissioned piece for someone
with just about any symbology on it, as long as it was not
offensive, like a KKK sign for example. I have had inquiries about
Stars of David, for example, by Jews who saw my crosses and Pagan
designs in my showcases. They didn’t mind requesting symbols from me.
I haven’t got around to that one yet, but I think I will. So I don’t
think I have to be a part of a religion to help people celebrate
their own beliefs. But there is something else going on with many of
the other, perhaps more exotic or minority cultures. It is trendy and
cool to have various ethnic designs right now. There may be no
respect for the cultures at all by the makers, many of whom are just
in it for the profit. How many millions of dollars have been made
using the image of Kokopelli? Jewelry, lamps, clothing, etc., etc.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Native Americans got all that money? I am not
condemning anyone who feels a connection to this material and wants
to work with it, but I do have serious reservations about doing it
myself, for profit. And there are unquestionably many designs out on
the market that have been created with no reverence for anything but
the almighty dollar. That irks me. If you want to make a
religious-based piece for yourself, or to give as a gift, I would
never question it. But please think seriously before appropriating
symbols for your own profit. You may be genuinely adding to the
culture you admire, or you may be taking away from it.

I know there are inconsistencies in my above remarks. You see, it is
an ongoing process for me. Please don’t be threatened by my
discussion. You know what is in your heart, if you are a maker of
objects. I know of at least one maker on this list whom I admire,
who probably is not Native American but does related material, and
whom I believe comes to the material in a good way.

May I be well. May you be well. May all manner of things be well.

Sincerely,
M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA


#17
Perhaps they should pause and consider that nobody is going to try
to use a symbol such as a dream-catcher for any other purpose than
that for which it was originally intended: (if it worked for these
guys, maybe I should try it for my bad dreams).

Come to Santa Fe, or any soutwestern tourist town. There, you can
see Kokopelli, a fertility figure sacred to the Hopi, emblazoned on
every damn thing from toilet paper dispensers to ashtrays. To many
Hopi, it is beyond disrespecftul - it is as if, not being satisfied
with stealing their land, we are stealing their religion as well, and
desecrating it.

Basic principle, IMO- don’t take it if it isn’t yours. I use some
symbols in my work which can be found on petroglyphs, such as
spirals, waves, the lighning bolt, the sun symbol - but I have also
studied enough to know that these symbols are found all over the
globe and are in that sense the common property of all humankind.
Appropriating symbols from a tradition which I don’t embrace or fully
understand, for purposes of ornamentation or decoration, besides
being inauthentic, would be to treat with frivolity something which
should be approached with respect.

Lee


#18
I guess it differs per individual. How they stand in "stealing
culture that you are not part of". 

I must admit I was a little annoyed a few years back when Celtic
designs suddenly became popular with stoners, who did not seem at
all worried that what they were doing with it and saying about it
had very little to do with any kind of an authentic heritage. The
idea that the world’s spirituality is an all-you-can-eat buffet,
where you can take a sample of this or that, may be interesting and
fun, but the natives are not always going to be flattered by the
attention.

I'm a singer of Irish ballads. I sing (and play) in an Irish
session in a pub. I'm not Irish In fact I've never even been there. 

Usually musicians are more impressed by your talent than your
resume. I know an excellent bagpipe teacher who was encouraged and
taught by several of the top piobroch masters of the 20th century
because they thought his natural gifts were worth the investment.
The fact that he is Italian-American was never much of a factor. But
now and then you get people who treat these ethnic art forms as
something nationalist and want to check your DNA and your political
affiliation before they let you sit at the table.

It is largely a matter of how you handle it. If you make things that
take from other cultures, you might do just fine with it -or- you
might come off as a dabbeler and a wannabe. Who can tell why some
people can move between cultures and always be welcome guests? And
others make fools of themselves doing what appears to be the same
thing. I think it is a style and instinct aspect of some people’s
personalities that gives them a sort of invisible passport.

Good luck.
Stephen Walker


#19

Very interesting topic, indeed. The entire history of art is
connected with religion in one way or another. The ancient Greek
sculpture attained its glory in depicting the gods of the Olympus.
The Renaissance art drew heavily on that mythology. Even going back
to the earliest times - you could view the cave paintings as a form
of prayer. Some of the movements in modern art were influenced by
those primitive shapes. Artists and craftpeople are always influenced
by something, be it nature, mythology or other artwork. And other
art, especially that of the nomadic or hunter-gatherer societies is
often influenced by people’s believes. I think the important point
here is the artist’s intention in the use of the symbolism. Is he/she
paying homage to the gods or spirits? trying to provoke? making a
judgment? It is for the public that consumes this artwork to
interpret it and decide whether it is worth being offended or not.
Sometimes unintentional offence can be a good thing if it stimulates
a peaceful dialogue between cultures, sometimes, as in the recent
case of the Dutch paper publishing the cartoon of Mohammed, it could
result in violence. I believe that artists, despite everything,
should have a freedom to express themselves and be prepared to defend
their choice of symbolism borrowed from other cultures. There are
always be people that will take offence. Can and should we censor
ourselves to avoid it? For me personally, the biggest offence is
commercialization and mass production of things that use the sacred
symbols, when they become so common, that they loose their original
meaning and potency.

it is not legal to produce any artwork like aboriginal dot
paintings, for example, 

why is that? Is it so that aboriginals can profit directly from
their symbolism? To avoid lawsuits of cultural exploitation? The
aboriginals seem to have no problem themselves in popularizing and
mass-producing all kinds of objects with dot-paintngs patterns.

I don't want to offend any Maori people, and I don't want to be
accused of "stealing" or exploiting anyone's culture. 

If at the end, the fear of offending Maoris is a very important
aspect for you, you could ask Maoris for permission.

Likewise, as a non-Jew (secular humanist, actually), can or should
I make mezuzahs and menorahs, as I admire and respect their
symbolism and their place in Jewish life? 

Why not make them? I am a "secular Jew " and I find the interest of
people with non-jewish background in my cultural heritage flattering.
I would have no problem using a Menorah made by non-Jew. I can’t
speak for the Orthodox Jewish community - I don’t know if there are
any laws governing the manufacturing of religious object.

Best regards,
Ruslana


#20

I originally questioned the use of Symbols of another culture in
commercial use. Let me expand on this a bit.

I was in Southeast Asia when there was an issue about the
exportation of religious statuary, and the prohibition of them. The
reasons put forth were the misuse and disrespect shown by others.

I was then living in Beverly Hills and while wandering around, I saw
a Buddha Head in a upscale shop window. It was used to drape scarves
for sale around. This was exactly what the entire issue was all
about. Strangely, I felt the pain of the disrespect shown.

I believe we have to be far more aware of what we chose to use for
our gain. Some symbols may seem to be exotic, and potentially
sale-able, but at what cost to others?

Terrie