01 Aug 2022 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

Though we are certainly no experts, here are some guidelines that may serve as a starting point for non-BIPOC artists to think about cultural appropriation in their work. We humbly put these forth in hopes that non-BIPOC book and paper artists will begin to consider if and how their work is truly respectful and inclusive, and to recognize their privilege and positionality as part of the dominant culture with a history of colonization and imperialism.

1. Non-BIPOC book/paper artists/makers: do you have a press or studio name, or have works with titles containing Asian-sounding words? If so, have you thought about why you chose this name, the cultural or historical context from which these words come? Have you profited from the name sounding more Asian, even though you yourself are not Asian?

2. Non-BIPOC book/paper instructors: Have you taught workshops or classes on traditional techniques that come from cultures that you are not a part of? If you have the resources to teach, consider redirecting these resources into supporting Asian heritage instructors who are already teaching these topics and/or mentoring or supporting up-and-coming Asian makers to help them become the next generation of workshop instructors. They may not have the experience, skillset, or connections to teach workshops like you do, but they have a key connection to the culture, which is an important distinction. 

3. If you are inspired by Asian culture and insist on expressing that in your artwork, and if you are not already doing so, we urge you to find ways to deepen your commitment to and allyship with Asian cultures and peoples. During the pandemic and amidst increased instances of anti-Asian violence, many of us in the Asian American community have been hurting and grieving. If you truly love Asian culture enough to use it in your own artwork, and if you want to go beyond cultural appropriation, we urge you to listen to your Asian neighbors/friends/colleagues, find ways to support and come alongside. If you borrow something from someone, how are you giving back?

4. If you have used Asian imagery or borrowed from Asian culture in your work, have you asked for consent? Have you provided adequate reference or documentation of your source material? If not, and if you are still profiting from this work, consider revisiting these works and thinking through if and how these can be revised. Though potentially inconvenient, this is the type of work that demonstrates responsibility, accountability, and care within our book art community.

5. On an institutional level: book art curriculum is dominated by European theories, methods, and pedagogies. Educational institutions may consider offering courses about other cultures, so that students can be exposed to non-western design practices. Ideally these courses would be taught by folks with direct ties to the culture, but if this is not possible, it is worth asking: what is a responsible way of teaching about a culture that the instructor may not be a part of?

Examining our use of cultural appropriation as individuals and as a field is but one piece of a greater project to decolonize the book arts. We can start to ask ourselves about other areas in our field that need examination on a greater structural level, such as collections practices, book arts curriculum, representation, equitable access, cataloguing, and so on. We welcome further explorations and conversation around any of these areas, and also welcome thoughts and feedback on how we can together cease harmful practices such as cultural appropriation. All of us in this field will be better for it.

Steph Rue is an artist and papermaker based in Sacramento, CA. She received her MFA at the University of Iowa Center for the Book, and studied traditional book and papermaking on a Fulbright to Korea in 2015. Steph is co-founder of the Korean American Artist Collective and co-founder of Hanji Edition.

Radha Pandey is a papermaker and letterpress printer based in Norway/India. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa Center for the Book and specializes in Indo-Islamic Papermaking techniques, teaching classes in India, Europe, and the US. Her artist's books are held in over 90 public collections internationally.

Catherine Liu received a Master of Fine Arts in Book Arts at the University of Iowa Center for the Book in 2019. To further their knowledge in natural dyes they received multiple University of Iowa Graduate Fellowships, a Stanley Award for International Research, and a Fulbright research grant to study dyeing, printing, and papermaking practices in China and Japan.

This post was moderated by Kathy Walkup.

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