Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Intro to Global Domythic Style

"The Origin of Rubies" and "Star Lovers" by Golden Age Illustrator, Warwick Goble, an artist who created absolutely beautiful fairy tale works based on global themes. Courtesy of Art Passions.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking online with one of our Domythic Bliss members, writer Shveta Thakrar. She had written a short story for Cabinet des Fees, and she was telling me about some of the critical comments she had received toward the tale.** Some people had told her that the names of her characters were too foreign and hard to pronounce, and some made disparaging comments toward aspects of the tale that seemed too unknown to them. While I would certainly like to think that this sort of cultural insensitivity is in the vast minority of the mythic community, it alarmed me to hear the story of her experience with it.

I had read a suggestion in the Domythic Bliss Facebook group that I do a series of posts on Global Domythic style, and hearing of Shveta's experience lit a fire under me to do so sooner rather than later. It's true: even though much of modern mythic fiction and the mythic arts is based on European and Western mythological characters and stories, there is an entire world of cultural beauty to admire and respect. Imagination, wonder, magic, and even faeries are international concepts, and every nation in the world has its own unique stories to tell.

Shveta and I had more conversations about the idea of my blog post series on Global myth and decor. I told her how nervous I was to broach a topic that seems to cause debate and disagreement whenever it is brought up: the topic of how to tell the difference (and where the line lays) between cultural admiration and cultural appropriation. I, for one, have always been a person who backs down from any conflict like a turtle retreating into a shell. And so, as I told Shveta, it should tell you how important it is to me that we are reminded of the world's wide variety of beautiful myth and storytelling that I am doing this series of posts.

Cultural appropriation can be something very hard to define, in this case when it comes to decorating specifically. And often the line between acceptable and non-acceptable cultural decorating can be fluid. For instance, is it appropriation for a woman born in the U.S. who has never left her country to want a room of her house to be inspired by 1,001 Nights, Aladdin, or another such fairy tale from another culture? (I sure hope not, because the girl in that example happens to be me!) What about my coworker, a white American citizen who spent a good deal her childhood years living and growing up in Haiti? She has several statues in her house of the Voodoo god, Legba, who is revered in Haiti, and is quite important to her and interwoven with her life experiences. However, she does not practice Voodoo.

Often times, the definition of cultural appropriation in decorating is more about non-visual intent and conscious knowledge, and not necessarily based on any things that are visible to the eye. A long-haired, overalls-wearing white man could be a practicing Buddhist, and the statue of Buddha in his home is part of his religion. A trendy young woman returning from China might put the same sacred statue in her hallway just to add a touch of multi-cultural flare, not knowing a thing about it other than it being a "neat little man." Simply looking at the two statues, you may never be able to guess the intent behind the object. But the intent is the most important thing when we are trying to celebrate global culture and global myth without disrespecting the culture we are celebrating. And the only way to really decorate with full intent is to educate ourselves on the stories that come with the items, sacred and secular, from other cultures.

In this short series of posts highlighting some of the decorating motifs in other cultures, I will do my best to, where appropriate and where I can find the information, educate us all about the stories behind the items people use to decorate their homes. If at some point I veer into a place you consider to be appropriation, let me reassure you that it is entirely unintentional. And please...if you have any knowledge of the myths, spiritual beliefs, or practices of one of these cultures, I would love to hear from you and educate myself further as well!

**which, by the way, I have read. It is wonderful!


  1. The line between appropriation and appreciation, most often comes down to individual opinion and, as you mentioned, intent is huge to some people.

    For example, I tend to get extremely cranky around St. Patrick's Day. As a predominantly Irish descent American, seeing people who are clearly NOT Irish staggering around drunkenly, decked in plastic green beads, shirts that say "Kiss me, I'm Irish", and shouting "Erin Go Bragh" without even knowing what the words mean, tends to make my head light on fire.

    By the same token, however, one of my dearest friends is ethnically Vietnamese, but has had a lifelong fascination with Irish culture (and a slight obsession with Irish food). She is always very curious and even when she gets some aspects completely wrong, she's always very respectful. I am more than willing to spend hours explaining what I know of my own heritage to her, as a result.

    I'm very much looking forward to this new series! :) To your friend who got complaints about "Things being too hard to pronounce", give her my sympathy... I get it all the time for the name of my studio. Apparently podrozny (the Polish word for "traveler") is too hard for people, too, and I should have picked something simpler.

  2. good for you, Grace. I'm looking forward to these posts. I know a little about alot of different myth cycles, so we can all share together.

  3. Thanks bdswagger!

    And Melissa, that's a perfect example! I'm not Irish myself, but Celtic lore and the rich history of Ireland are big passions of mine. It also makes me bristle to see it appropriated and made light of every St. Patrick's Day.

    Also, Melissa, does your studio have a website? I love the name.

    1. I do. It's I'm about to do a little bit of overhauling (I haven't updated my photo catalog in a while; my About could use a spring cleaning) but my "door" is always open and I try and have a nice pot of tea on the stove for visitors. :)