Alberta Cree artist criticized for magazine illustrations of a bear in this headdress
Jason Carter says the artwork was not intended to be offensive, but a playful exploration of cultural symbols
An Alberta Indigenous artist is apologizing after his artwork, depicting a bear wearing a marijuana leaf headdress, sparked controversy for a Toronto magazine.
Carter was commissioned by Now Magazine to create artwork for its latest edition to accompany a feature article on legalization. Titled Decolonizing Cannabis, the article explores the impact of legalization on Indigenous communities.
Carter submitted two illustrations to the magazine.
Both illustrations feature a bear wearing a headdress made, not of eagle feathers, but of large marijuana leaves.
"They wanted to use an Indigenous artist because they knew it was going to be a sensitive issue, and I jumped at the chance," Carter said. "I really wanted to play with the iconography of the bear and the headdress. It went through a few evolutions, but ended up there with something simple and effective to get people talking."
'Insulting and diminishing'
The prints were the subject of dozens of complaints on social media. Some readers described the art as racist or insulting, with criticism targeting the magazine for trivializing headdresses, which are considered sacred objects.
"You say that one of the core 'visions' for your company is empowerment of all," reads one complaint from Kaylee Juniper on Twitter. "This cover is not empowering, regardless of the material contained within, it is insulting and diminishing.
I am sick with disgust of this image. I am of the Bear Clan and my name is Leading Bear Man. <a href="https://twitter.com/CartersArt?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CartersArt</a> Please STOP <a href="https://t.co/MrY4u77IEL">https://t.co/MrY4u77IEL</a>—@adamruebenbeach
This is disgusting, you should be ashamed of yourselves.—@MetisFrog
Who thought that portraying Indigenous people as animals was a good idea? Who thought that mish mashing of cultures and trivializing of sacred items was a good idea??? How many people had to sign off in this???? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/CanadianRacism?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#CanadianRacism</a>—@deejayndn
All individuals responsible for the cover picture needs to be fired. <br><br>This better not be circulated tomorrow.—@GazhagyansKwe
Carter said the art was not intended to be offensive, but a playful exploration of cultural symbols.
While he is apologetic to those he offended, Carter said he has no regrets about his work. Indigenous people should feel empowered to explore their own culture through art, he said.
If Indigenous artists can't use Indigenous iconography in art who can, he wonders.
"I think it's important to reclaim that iconography, that Indigenous iconography," Carter said. "As an Aboriginal artist, feeling that I can't explore that sort of subject matter feels a bit silly to me."
A statement on this week's cover <a href="https://t.co/4HDwdkNyQD">pic.twitter.com/4HDwdkNyQD</a>—@nowtoronto
With files from Julia Lipscombe