Accepted Paper:

Of tourist art and souvenirs: for a transversal analysis of travellers and their objects  

Author:

Solen Roth (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

Scholarly discussions of collecting have tended to focus on three archetypal figures - ethnographers, art connoisseurs, tourists – and their ‘corresponding’ categories of objects - artefacts, fine art, tourist art. Here, the notion of “souvenir” will be used as an avenue for a more transversal analysis of travellers and their objects.

Paper long abstract:

Scholarly discussions of collecting practices have tended to focus on three archetypal figures of Western travellers: the colonial ethnographer, the Primitive Art connoisseur, and the exoticizing tourist. Similarly, the debate surrounding non-Western material culture has resulted in the crystallisation of such categories as "ethnographic artefact," "fine art," and "tourist art." A simplified Bourdieusian approach would contend a strict correspondence between type of traveller, collecting habitus, and taste for particular objects. In this paper, however, the notion of "souvenir" will be used as an avenue for a more transversal analysis of these reified categories of people, objects and value.

"Souvenirs" are usually cast as cheap and kitsch embodiments of uninformed tourists' superficial experiences of foreign locations. In this perspective, "souvenirs" and "tourist art" are often used as synonyms, an equation that can be criticized on several grounds. First, souvenirs can be understood more broadly as "tokens of a shared lived experience," in which case they do not necessarily espouse the canon traditionally assigned to tourist art. Second, tourist art is increasingly valued and acquired by individuals that do not fit the stereotype of the unsophisticated traveller. Third, tourist art can be invested by their makers and owners with other values than those usually assigned to souvenirs. This paper examines three examples in support of this double-recasting of travellers and their objects: Primitive Art collectors' investment of 'masterpieces' with souvenir value, anthropologists' investment of tourist art with ethnographic value, and Indigenous communities' investment of mass-produced objects with artistic and ceremonial value.

Panel W093
On 'Souvenir': experiencing diversity, objectifying mutuality