Buckskin ceiling

DEFINITION

What some American Indian artists call the invisible barrier that keeps them from rising to the top of their field. It is an artworld penchant for stereotype, a tendency to codify both traditional and contemporary forms of expression, a bias that makes space for traditional beadwork, buckskins and trading-post blankets, and ignores everything else. Newcomers to the Americas and their descendants have destroyed and displaced many American Indians. This has resulted in profound challenges to the cultural identity of contemporary Indians. The buckskin ceiling has been created partly by American Indians themselves, in that some American Indians have held fast to traditional images and meanings, while others have found new ones. But just as significant is the fact that the Indian art market, a multimillion-dollar global industry, is greatly controlled by non-Indians who impose their own ideas about what is valuable in American Indian cultures. "Buckskin ceiling" is an adaptation of the expression "glass ceiling" ? an invisible barrier that keeps women from rising to positions of power.Quote: "The buckskin ceiling is that beyond which native people cannot rise in the art world." Suzan Shown Harjo (American, a Cheyenne and Muskogee Indian, and president of the Morningstar Institute, an American Indian legislative group based in Washington, DC), quoted in the New York Times, December 24, 2000, section 2, p. 37.

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