More thoughts on the question : “are your arrows culturally appropriating Native American arrows?”
I’d first like to say that I whole-heartedly respect and honor the works and history of Native Americans in our country. I acknowledge that I do not understand the pain this group of people has and continues to experience. I am continually researching and checking in with myself to see where I stand on the subject of cultural appropriation, specifically regarding my artwork. I am very open to having a dialogue about my art or cultural appropriation in general. It’s a very complicated subject with no right or wrong answer, and one that I think we should all continue to talk about while including our personal experiences and ancestral histories. I feel that it’s important to keep a dialogue going about it, using our personal moral compasses as a guide.
To start, I’d like to introduce a little bit of arrow history that I have researched. The arrow is a tool that nearly every culture around the world independently created and used in warfare and recreation. The earliest definite remains of bow and arrow are from Europe. Possible fragments from Germany were found at Mannheim-Vogelstang dated 17,500-18,000 years ago, and at Stellmoor dated 11,000 years ago. Points found in Grotte du Bichon, Switzerland suggest the use of arrows at 13,500 years ago. At the site of Nataruk in Turkana County, Kenya, obsidian bladelets found suggest the use of stone-tipped arrows as weapons about 10,000 years ago. Microliths discovered on the south coast of Africa suggest that projectile weapons of some sort may be at least 71,000 years old, but may have been used to tip darts, not arrows. Almost all of these cultures created their arrows using the same materials : varieties of stone or bone arrowhead, straightened wood or reed shaft, feather fletching or no fletching at all, and sinew to hold it all together. I find it pretty amazing that so many cultures across the globe created the same type of tool to use! Fred Bear, a forefather of American bowhunting, said, “The history of the bow and arrow is the history of mankind.”
After considering the history of arrows, it stirred up a little conflict for me because I am not attempting to associate with the tragedies resulted from arrows used as weaponry (but I’m making arrows, what do I expect?) For me, the arrow is a universal graphic that all people understand as a symbol of direction or movement. It’s a reference to all of humanity seeking direction.
I personally came to use the symbol of an arrow after a particularly challenging time in my life several years ago when I was struggling with my mental health, my career path, and unsure of my purpose. My husband and I took a several-week-long leave from our home and work in Brooklyn and escaped to an area upstate, NY where we could slow down, live, reconnecting with ourselves, focus on cooking, reading, writing, making art, and getting outdoors every day to embrace the healing powers of nature.
During our time upstate, we would hike near the Delaware River often. It was very early spring an the river had just started to melt. One day at the river, we found the most beautiful pieces of driftwood I had ever seen and collected them one by one as if it were a treasure hunt. I was curious about them and learned they had been de-barked by beavers. Such a beautiful nature-made, animal-enhanced material I had found! I collected as much of the beaverstick driftwood that I could find. During that same time, it was common for us to find wild turkey feathers in the yard along with river stones, bird and wasp nests. I ended up with quite a bounty of “nature treats”, as I like to call them. I brought all of my treasures back to Brooklyn with me as a way to reconnect with that healing time.
Several months later, I pulled out all of my materials and decided to play around with them creatively. The idea hit - I needed to make arrows. An arrow because it was time for me to move forward, recognize the steps I had taken (even though they were small) towards healing and nurturing myself. Progress. Movement. Forward. That’s what it meant to me. I sat down and made the arrows one by one experimentally, using my experiences learned in art school.
Here in the United States, it is common that an arrow is associated to native cultures, so I can see why one might combine the two. It’s also been a trendy motif in recent pop culture, where there are many very obvious cases of cultural appropriation. It has brought a lot of pause and contemplation for me to be questioned about cultural appropriation, for my artwork to be misunderstood, and for the idea that my art may be hurtful to someone. It has changed my relationship with my craft. But! I am thankful for the situation to be able to learn and continue to explore and experiment with my creative outlet and materials used. And after all, isn’t art intended to be interpreted by the viewer altogether?!
So, that’s where I am with it all. I am open to change, and am very open to continuing a dialogue about my artwork and cultural appropriation. If you have any questions or comments, would like to chat more, meet for coffee, or tell me your perspective, I’m all ears! Honestly. While I have deep love for and emotional connection with my artwork, I have just as much of deep care and empathy for all humans and our histories.
Thanks for reading.