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Reply To Moana Maniapoto HANDS OFF OUR IMAGES

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In her article, ...HANDS OFF OUR IMAGES ..., Mona Maniapoto uses charged terms, “racists and nutters”, in close association with her mention of the American website, Fine Art America. Seemingly without taking any time to investigate how this website works, she writes as if Fine Art America is an organization of rigid, centralized editorial standards, tightly policing all art submitted to it, when, in fact, Fine Art America is a clearinghouse for tens of thousands of INDIVIDUAL artist salespeople. Ms. Maniopoto uses her seeming misconception about the website to condemn the WHOLE website, when, in fact, her issue is with ONE artist out of the tens of thousands of artists who use the website. I am one of these artists, and I take offense to being collectively assimilated into her tapestry of “nutters and racists”.

She continues weaving her verbal tapestry around the website with phrases like “lack of taste” and “the appetite of opportunists to make a quick buck”. First, these phrases represent her personal judgments of taste and her personal ideals about how to make money. She elevates her own judgments and personal ideals as fact, when these judgments and ideals are ONE person’s opinion. Second, even if her opinions WERE facts, she is misapplying them to an entire population of artists to whom these opinions simply would NOT apply. That’s two flaws: (1) stating her opinion as if it were fact, and (2) applying a fact/opinion to a specific part as if this specific part were the whole.

Under the influence of her own personal opinion, she writes, “Why any human would buy a tote bag with a mokomōkai on it beggars belief” … , as if this OPINION is the golden standard for every human taste. Obviously, SOMEbody finds a mokomokai on a tote bag very interesting, or why would they even enable such a thing. It beggars MY own personal belief why anyone would consider a urinal in an art gallery as a symbol of modern art, but there it is, and many people revere it as iconic for this very reason. No one person or select group of people gets to say absolutely what is proper use of images and implements, whether adorning a cushion or adorning an artistic movement. This is what art is. Even in the sale of art as a commodity, this is what art is.

Would I myself use this subject on a cushion? No, because it has zero interest and appeal to me. But for someone, it obviously has significant interest and appeal. Why is this not extremely complimentary instead of “extremely hurtful”. People in America take their decor seriously, taking pains to choose the right cushion or shower curtain to hang in their homes. Again, how is this “hurtful”?

Further along in her article, Ms. Maniapoto mentions duvet covers of Hitler or vintage posters of a slave auction, as if this imagery is in the same league as images she is objecting to. News flash ! – images of Hitler and slavery are NOT in the same league as images of the Maori people. That’s false generalization of vastly different parts into the same whole. I would call this a misappropriation of logic. I would also say that implying that Hitler on commercial products in any way corresponds to Maori people on commercial products shows disrespect for Maori images, ... if you really hate Hitler. The fact is, though, some people probably find Hitler interesting, for reasons that have little to do with their own political stances, although I personally would find it difficult to use Hitler in decorations.

Again, Ms. Maniapoto implies an allegiance of all Fine Art America artists with Hitler, slavery, and her other “racists and nutters”. She groups together a whole list of offenses, including infringed images clearly protected by laws or publicity rights, and conveniently plugs in her claim of what amounts to cultural infringement to make her case. And again, I take offense, first (as I said) for her conflating me (by implication) into her hoard of “nutters and racists”, and second for her falsely associating the website of which I am a part with legitimate claims of infringement that the website handles accordingly.

Reading through Ms. Maniapoto’s article and her other comments across the internet, I get the feeling that her deep sense of the human body is anchored in a viewpoint that the human body is ultimately dirty and disgusting, and so anything that the naked human body might come in contact with is somehow soiled. This would explain her disgust with images for pillows on which people sit their rear ends or her disgust for shower curtains on which the water from dirty bodies would splash, hung in a part of the house where the dirty human body carries on its disgusting waste elimination process.

This repulsion of the human body, even though it might be ONE culture’s stance, might NOT be another culture’s stance, and to demand this stance for ALL cultures is a bit presumptive, to say the least. To represent herself as a spokesperson for ALL cultures on this issue is also a bit presumptive.
I, for one, certainly do NOT regard the human body in this light, and I suspect that there are others who do NOT regard the human body in this light. To demand that I accept this viewpoint as a golden rule is to deny me the ability to evolve my own cultural belief about the human body. To use this viewpoint to condemn my use of imagery represses my own cultural creativity in a vastly diverse civilization.

Photographs are IMAGES – two dimensional EXPRESSIONS of once multidimensional, dynamic living forms. EXPRESSIONS are ABSTRACTIONS from reality, and as such, they serve very well as adornments for all manner of things. This is how human beings put such expressions to use, by adorning their surroundings with such expressions, abstractions, or echoes of reality. One more time, how is this “hurtful”? How is this not using the energy of one culture to enhance another?

How is the call for people to keep their hands off certain images not a self-centered call, especially when another culture comes to recognize these images as adornments for the entire human race rather than as static possessions of any one group?

Aside from the questionable logic of her stance and the careless association of offenses without conscience of any gradations between them, my biggest issue with Moana Maniapoto is how she handled her complaint. Why did she not approach the offending artist first in a private email and explain her feelings on the matter? Why did she not attempt to contact the management of Fine Art America? Why did she not consider the thousands of other artists on Fine Art America and their lack of control over what any one of the artists posts on the website? Instead of taking a reasoned, behind the scenes, diplomatic approach in the name of education, she chose to grandstand her outrage, using (or should I say “appropriating”) the Fine Art America website to frame her grandstanding.

Furthermore, the breezy tone of her writing style smacks of entertainment value for an audience of captured readers, rather than carrying forth a tone of seasoned diplomacy. She seems to be trying to please her audience with her opening sentences and their colloquial style of language usage, which, by the way, is an appropriation of language style from another culture.

She seems to find great satisfaction in her expression of outrage, as if mugging for the camera, but instead of a camera, she is mugging for the rapt attention of her potential viewers.

She uses a website dedicated to the Maori people as her platform to do this grandstanding, and she uses a public-domain image of one of her ancestors to illustrate her grandstanding.

She is expressing herself, and she is using already established entities as her instruments of expression. She does a good job at it. She uses her instruments well, as any good artist comes to do. And as any good artist runs the risk of doing, she has outraged some people along the way, myself being one of them.

Do I condemn her as a person? No. I merely point out what she is doing, ... in order that I might represent ANY art (including the art of language) for what it is – a fluid, constantly evolving, moving array of human contrivances that lend themselves to ingenious uses across different eras.