Friday, December 11, 2015

Authentic Voices - does it matter?

art quilt by Nicole Dunn.   I love black and white photos. This quilt is gorgeous.:
art quilt by Nicole Dunn
I want to return to a post I wrote last week about an article on authentic voice as an indigenous person in academia ("Metis Wisdom: Learning and Teaching Across the Cultures" by Carole Leclair).  The author of this piece did a good job of situating herself in a balanced space that maneuvered between indigenous ways of knowing and relationships, and the tone required for an academic paper.  The next day I read two other pieces that I thought provided great contrast to this piece.

The first is by Julie Nagam "Transforming and Grappling with Concepts of Activism and Feminism with Indigenous Women artists".  She introduces herself as, "situated in multiple locations of community, race, class and identity." Given the subject of the article I am tempted to read in that she is in part indigenous but that could be any of us really.  The combination of this description, the use of language in the article and the lack of story makes this a sterile piece despite the source materials referencing personal interviews.  At the end of the article I was left frustrated and lacking connection to what is ultimately an important and emotive issue.  By using the "academic voice" this article was not able to succeed in what it was trying to do.

The second piece "Making Connections: The Uses and Meanings of Needle Arts in The Color Purple and the Mountain and the Valley" by Sheila Davis interested me as it seems to walk the exact middle between the articles by Leclair and Nagam.  While there is no biography of the author, a voice comes through very clearly and at times the author shares her own experiences on the subject.  While Davis is speaking to similar themes regarding the oppression of women and the situation of women's work within the larger economy and society, she is writing in smart, but conversational tone.  She is not an academic looking at this issue for unknown reasons, but someone who engages in needle work herself and is now thinking of these experiences from an academic lens. 

From the first paragraph I am drawn in as she contrasts situations where needle work has been oppressive to women with those where it has had emancipatory effects.  I had never thought of needle work in these terms but she quickly bring us along on her journey to show how these tropes are used and more broadly, for me at least, brings forward a whole language of symbolism in the needle arts that I had not considered.  In both books rags from cast off clothing are used to make rugs - the cast off item is redeemed.  The braiding of these rugs becomes a metaphor of the relationships between the people whose clothes these once were.  While the opportunity to work with the cloth of those who have walked on can become an opportunity to visit again with these people.

Davis refers to Patricia Hill Collins, in her book "Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment" who likens the traditional African American quilt patterns to African American society, weaving together individuality and community.  This got me thinking about what Métis beadwork symbolizes about the community.  I have seem very summary descriptions that it is the Indian style of beading with European themes, but this article makes me want to explore this issue more deeply and look at what it might be saying about the people and community more broadly. 

I feel more sensitive about this issue of voice as I am walking the good red path.  How can you trust someone you don't know?  How can you share information about sensitive things without the wider context of that person and the communities they belong too?  How do we share knowledge and relationships through the written word?  I am heartened to see those who are doing well at this task. 

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