By Anjuli Kolb

In their Fall 2012 collection, Rodarte designers Laura and Kate Mulleavy used a number of prints drawn from Aboriginal artworks and cultural materials. A representative of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues questioned their ethics—morally and financially—and said she would be “sickened” to see women walking around New York in the clothes. In the rag trade, who owns, has owned, or should own textile and artistic practices? We used to think the cotton plant was a living lamb attached to a stem, who, when it had finished eating all the grass the vicinity of its stalk, would simply perish. 

1. "There is a long history of misappropriation of important Aboriginal artworks and cultural material, which has been subsequently used in inappropriate ways…Rodarte did not confirm the licensing of any artwork…until my comments yesterday. Until then, when asked about the inspiration for the collection, they were on the public record as stating that their collection ‘came out of nowhere.’”

–Megan Davis, an indigenous Australian lawyer and representative of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, speaking to Frockwriter last week about fashion label Rodarte’s use of Aboriginal printsin their Fall 2012 collection. The designers have since confirmed that they licensed the work from an artist named Benny Tjangala of the Aboriginal Artists Agency Ltd.

2. “…another version of the story was circulated in which the lamb was described…as being a living lamb attached by its navel to a short stem rooted in the earth. The stem, or stalk, on which the lamb was thus suspended above the ground was sufficiently flexible to allow the animal to bend downward, and browze on the herbage within its reach. When all the grass within the length of its tether had been consumed the stem withered and the lamb died. This plant lamb was reported to have bones, blood, and delicate flesh, and to be a favorite food of wolves…”

–Henry Lee, from The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary: A Curious Fable of the Cotton Plant, To Which is Added a Sketch of the History of Cotton and the Cotton Trade, 1887. The myth he describes came from Western Europeanaccounts of seeing cotton for the first time in Tartary, Scythia, and India.

3. “With the introduction of cotton cloth by Arab caravan traders in the nineteenth century, production slowed and eventually faded out, limiting the use of barkcloth to cultural and spiritual functions….The objectives of the safeguarding project are to: train craftspersons, especially young artisans, in making bark cloth; establish sustainable practices of using the Mituba trees; popularize the making and use of bark cloth; ensure legal protection and income generating activities; and promote recognition of and respect for the cultural value of bark cloth. Training activities [are] to be widely publicized in the mass media …”

—“Barkcloth Making in Uganda,” Inscribed on UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.


Let Me Recite What History Teaches (LMRWHT) is a weekly column that flashes the lavalamp, gaslight, candlelight, campfire, torch, sometimes even the starlight of the past on something that is happening now. The form of the column strives to recover what might be best about the “wide-eyed presentation of mere facts.” Each week you will find here some citational constellation, offered with astonishment and without comment, that can serve as an end in itself, dinner party fodder, or an occasion for further thought or writing. The title is taken from the last line of Stein’s poem“If I Told Him (A Completed Portrait of Picasso)."