20. June 2012 05:52
Not long ago a Native American artist I know lamented that the demand for his products has dropped in recent years. I agree with him that at present, real Indian crafts are mainly a niche market.
Some may argue that fashion trends loosely imitating traditional Native styles and patterns show interest in American Indian arts. Or that imitation dream catchers, Kokopeli decorations and the like, offered on and off-line, indicate popularity. I beg to differ. Fashion is ephemeral; dream catcher and Kokopelis have become Americana, sold everywhere, like salt water taffy. There are still genuine collectors as well as buyers who seek out work made by Native artists with tribal enrollment. But judging by the predominant hair color of shoppers at events like the Santa Fe Indian Market, most of them are Boomers.
Young Native artists are turning out amazing work—art that transcends the “American Indian” genre and compares favorably with contemporary global art. A new generation of young Indian crafts people are creating outstanding designs that combine traditional techniques with modern concepts. But unless we get more non-Native people interested, the demand will not change and these talented artists will be forced to treat their art as a hobby rather than a primary or secondary source of income. A few of these artists have succeeded in breaking through the glass ceiling and winning general recognition; they are not many.
It seems the entertainment industry often inspires fashion. I just read an article on BBC Magazine that, in part, credited the popularity of corsets as outwear to Madonna’s 1990s Blond Ambition tour. In the same way, the success of Billy Jack (1971) and Dances with Wolves (1990) helped to make Indian jewelry and crafts universally popular then.
So what’s to do? We need to spark some interest in Native arts and crafts among the younger generations. Maybe the time is ripe for a runaway indie film made by First People. Or for someone like Steven Spielberg to back a movie celebrating the American Indian.
Get busy, Hollywood!