7 Aug 2015
Initially I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the choice of material for this first assignment, which involves research the art of a culture, collecting resource materials, design and development work, and sampling.
I thought initially about Moorish Spain – the ceramics (tiles and pots), architecture of the Alhambra, Spanish embroidery (blackwork) which was influenced by the Moors, macrame (reaching Spain through Moorish invasion), and lutre pottery, with it’s geometric islamic designs.
I spent a day looking at resource material at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) library. Apart from books about Alhambra (of which there are many), there was a shortage of specific publications referring to the Moors, and in particular relating to the Moors in Spain. Although the Moors occupied most of Spain between 800-1250, there seemed little to distinguish them from the rest of Islamic culture (particularly that of North Africa).
At this point, I turned my attention to North America. Unlike Asia, Europe and Africa, where intercontinental trade was established very early and cultural and artistic influences spread an intermingled, native American culture was separated for many hundreds of years before conquest, making it distinct and recognisable. This is a factor which appealed to me when making my choice.
The challenge with choosing this cultural group is that unlike (for example Indian or Africa art), there is not a lot of source material in magazines or travel brochures, and although there is still a considerable amount of Indian artistic activity (1), this influence does not seem to have become widely assimilated into consumer items such as fabric or household goods. There is, however, plenty of published historical material concerning artefacts and culture.
Although it is often misconceived that all Indians are alike, they in fact consist of a disparate group of more than 300 different tribes many of which exhibit physically, linguistically and culturally differences (1). Natural materials were abundant and widely used (e.g. wood, feathers, leather, quills) and give an indication of the geographical origin of pieces. For example, wood from the NW coast, buffalo hides from the Plains, clay from the SW. I find natural materials a particular draw because of their textural qualities. I am also attracted to the harmonious qualities of natural dyes and colourants.
Native Americans have no word for ‘art’. In fact they do not see it as a necessary distinction from the utilitarian functionality of everyday objects. For them, art and beauty is intrinsic in everything they make (2). Native American peoples had little or no concept of fashion (1), being firmly confined by the conventional artistic limits imposed by their society. Artistic activity was also very gender specific (e.g. weaving, pottery-making). Many of these conventions persist into mordern interpretation and help to distinguish their art.
1. Feder, N. (1965) American Indian Art. Abrams. New York.
2. Walters, A.L. (1989) The spirit of native America: Beauty and mysticism in American Indian Art. Chronicle books. San Francisco.