Retitling, Cultural Appropriation, and Aboriginal Title

British Journal of Aesthetics 61 (3):317-333 (2021)
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In 2018, the Art Gallery of Ontario retitled a painting by Emily Carr which contained an offensive word. Controversy ensued, with some arguing that unsanctioned changes to a work’s title infringe upon artists’ moral and free speech rights. Others argued that such a change serves to whitewash legacies of racism and cultural genocide. In this paper, I show that these concerns are unfounded. The first concern is not supported by law or the history of our titling practices; and the second concern misses the mark by ignoring the gallery’s substantial efforts to avoid just such an outcome. Picking up on a suggestion from Loretta Todd, I argue that we can use Aboriginal Title as a model for thinking about the harms perpetuated by cultural appropriation, and the practices we should adopt to mitigate them.

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Michel-Antoine Xhignesse
Capilano University


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