Doctor of Philosophy in Art History (PhD)
Power and Policy in West African Museums: A Comparative Analysis of Nigeria and Senegal
In the Pacific Northwest, Aboriginal designs adorn private spaces and public places, as well as clothing worn and objects owned by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples alike. In addition to Northwest Coast art being increasingly treated as a form of fine art, Northwest Coast designs are now also being mechanically reproduced on many decorative and utilitarian objects, such as mugs, tote bags, T-shirts, and fridge magnets. Since the early 20th century, scholars, educators, artists, entrepreneurs, and government officials have been putting forward the idea that this market could, and indeed should, be developed to the benefit of Aboriginal individuals and communities, in addition to being used to strengthen Canada’s national identity and industry. Over the decades, the art and artware market’s expansions have also continuously raised questions about the effects and ethics of cultural commodification, in particular with respect to the often unequal distribution of risks and benefits among the market’s stakeholders. This dissertation examines how Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal individuals who are currently participating in the Native Northwest Coast artware industry of Vancouver (BC) view this market’s present configuration and envision its future. It argues that the artware industry is being progressively shaped into a form of Culturally Modified Capitalism in relation to enduring concerns about levels of Aboriginal involvement, different conceptions of authenticity and collaboration, as well as tensions between democratization and exclusion, deterritorialization and localization, individual and collective interests, and development and sustainability. As in any capitalism system, the resulting commodityscapes rely on the extraction of wealth from natural and cultural resources; however, Culturally Modified Capitalism is also an economic model built upon the premise that capitalist systems of production, distribution, and consumption may be harnessed to sustain Aboriginal ways of life, on the crucially important condition that Aboriginal stakeholders are able to bring their worldviews, values, and interests to bear on the market’s configuration. In the Native Northwest Coast artware industry, this translates into the expectation that companies not only sell goods, but also “do good” while “making their name good” by engaging in practices of redistribution reflecting the system of generalized reciprocity that characterizes the potlatch economy.