Archive for December 12th, 2014

T1-E1:P1-p1 Taking a step back

I started drafting this post a couple of weeks ago. There were a a couple of things about this assignment that bothered me, that I wanted to think through. In the last week there’s been a major twist, which I’ll get to at the end.

Fusion or Appropriation?
The project topic is Cultural Fusion. How close is that to Cultural Appropriation?

Given Australia’s history I try to be aware of damage already done by people from another culture sweeping in and taking over. I wouldn’t dream of using Australian aboriginal sources, as I think it has been made clear by members of the indigenous community that this would not be welcome.

The Art history course had plenty of examples of the influences of other cultures – Japanese prints in the late nineteenth century, or African masks and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. On the textile side, in around 1919 the Brooklyn Museum established a study room, for the specific purpose of allowing designers access to the ethnographic collection as a source of inspiration, and held an exhibition within the collection halls showing products and the museum objects which inspired them (see Whitley, 1998). More recently Margarete Ordon (2008) examined the way a clothing company “self-consciously markets the ways their products distort the textile designs, objects, and cultures of a colonized region that they also claim to celebrate and keep alive”.

Teotihuacán mask Maker unknown, 900 - 1521 Greenstone with obsidian eyes

Teotihuacán mask
Maker unknown, 900 – 1521
Greenstone with obsidian eyes

The Aztec themselves used images and ideas from earlier cultures for their own purposes, including as a source of authority and legitimacy (see discussion of the Emperors’ cloak, 17-Nov-2014). Even more relevant: “Whether through tribute, looting, or the collection of heirlooms, the Aztecs were the recipients of many works of art that they studied, cherished, buried again, or incorporated into their own visual imagery” (Miller, 1986, p. 210). Unfortunately I suspect it’s faulty logic to say that because something was OK in their culture it’s OK for me to do it to them.

My tentative idea was to learn what I could of the Aztecs, and try to find connections to my present – perhaps see my world a little differently, or new parts of it. That feels more like fusion – being open to change oneself, rather than say taking a motif and producing it in different materials. I feel I’m splitting hairs, but I’m definitely uncomfortable and somehow I have to manage this.

Products and colour trends
I’m sure the OCA website used to include use of colour forecasts in its high level list of degree outcomes. Happily it appears to have vanished. When re-checking my goals before re-enrolling, this most strongly made me hesitate.

Codex Vaticanus 3738 58r (detail) with colour picks

Codex Vaticanus 3738 58r (detail)
with colour picks

For this current project I might want to use colours taken from an image, such as the palette I’ve developed on the right. Or I might want to use colours important to the Aztec, such as turquoise, scorpion (a gray orange) and tawny, as explored clumsily in my sketchbook (18-Nov), or colours suggested by emotions – or almost anything other than what some stranger thinks is going to be exciting in New York fashion week spring 2015.

I work very slowly. I make a reasonable living in a quite different field, which allows me to indulge myself in my passion. I have no desire to make or design products for market. Which is a requirement for a part of this project.

From recent discussion on the OCA student forum I now accept that for others fashion colours and market trends are not just a necessity but really interesting.

It’s just not for me. One of the advantages of doing a course is being taken to places you thought you didn’t want to go, and finding out you were wrong. I’ve been wrong before, I’ll no doubt be wrong again – but I’d be amazed if this was one of those times. For whatever reason, colour forecasts make me retch.

At the start of the course (6 Nov-2014) my goals were:

  • I want to make the course my own – interpret briefs and make selections that reflect me and my interests.
  • I want to take risks and challenge myself.
  • I want to surprise myself.
  • I was trusting the course to give “the opportunity to build on previous learning and to gain valuable knowledge and skills.”

    When I started drafting this post I wanted to put myself on the spot – figure out what was bothering me and find a way to make it work, to meet my goals and the course requirements. I think I could do that – say do some colour trend research then show it wasn’t relevant for my chosen product, which could be perhaps a concertina book of a journey with stickers for children to move around and all the imagery based on textile work – or something else quite different.

    The twist is that I won’t be doing that. OCA has just announced a new level 1 course for textiles, and has agreed to allow me to transfer. I think it will take me even further out of my comfort zone. I suppose I’ve achieved one of my goals – I’ve totally surprised myself.

    Miller, M.E. (1986) The art of Mesoamerica from Olmec to Aztec London: Thames and Hudson

    Ordon, M. (2008) ” ‘I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas, anymore:’ Cross-Cultural Design in Peruvian Connection’s Textiles” In Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Paper 277 [online] Available from (Accessed 7-Nov-2014).

    Whitley, L.D. (998) “Morris De Camp Crawford and the ‘Designed in America’ Campaign, 1916 – 1922” In Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings. Paper 215 [online] Available from (Accessed 7-Nov-2014).

    T1-E1:P1-p1 Taking a step back
    Textiles 1 – Exploring Ideas
    Part 1: Cultural fusions
    Project 1: Interpreting cultural sources
    Taking a step back


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