Rachel Dolezal’s art: infringement, plagiarism, or fair appropriation of Turner’s work?

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Rachel Dolezal’s art: infringement, plagiarism, or fair appropriation of Turner’s work? by Professor Tonya M. Evans, Esq. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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The country is, unfortunately, transfixed on and fascinated and/or otherwise perplexed by the former NAACP Spokane Chapter president Rachel Dolezal controversy surrounding her declarations that she is black. Her statements and assertions include misrepresenting on the Chapter’s Facebook Page a black man as her father when, in fact, both of her parents are white.

Dolezal's art blog headshot.
Dolezal’s art blog headshot.

My interest in Dolezal’s story is not in the racial identity and misrepresentation morass. I’ll leave that to the Twitterverse (#RachelDolezal #AskRachel) and media. But the recent copyright infringement question about the origins of some of her artwork caught my eye.

As HuffingtonPost arts writer Priscilla Frank reported today, Dolezal, … is also an award-winning Mixed Media Artist, according to her art blog. But questions have been raised about whether Dolezal actually created all of her artwork or whether she misappropriated, in at least one instance, the work of another and presented it as her own.

Infringement? No. But there is a strong argument for plagiarism. Review the images and explanations below to understand why and share your thoughts about the issue.

The bio posted at Dolezal’s art blog reads:

“Rachel Dolezal is an award-winning Mixed Media Artist with over 20 exhibitions in 13 states, internationally, and at the United Nations Headquarters. Dolezal completed her Master of Fine Arts at Howard University, where she majored in experimental studio and minored in sculpture. She has over 10 years experience in community development, human rights education, and intercultural negotiations. She is currently an Art Instructor at North Idaho College, Adjunct Professor of African American Culture at Eastern Washington University, Advisor for the NIC Black Student Association, speaker, education consultant, and exhibiting artist.”

A Comparison of the Works

Below is the image under scrutiny that Dolezal claims as her original, copyrighted work:

8_Dolezal_R

Great piece–the second panel of a three-panel work–until someone like Twitter user Jolie Adams schools you on the noted and notable artwork of Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851).

Below is Turner’s “Slave Ship”:

JMW_SlaveShip

Twitter critic, Jolie Adams, created a side-by-side on Twitter in this post

In my humble opinion, they appear nearly identical. Dolezal’s work seems to be a tighter POV of Turner’s painting, with de minimis modifications of color and tone. Commenters knowledgeable about Turner’s work immediately questioned Dolezal’s claims that she created the work presumably without “inspiration”.

Dolezal_The Shape of our Kind_comments

But this isn’t a case of copyright infringement. And here’s why.

Continue reading “Rachel Dolezal’s art: infringement, plagiarism, or fair appropriation of Turner’s work?”