Accepted paper:

Art, craft and aesthetic practice in Oaxacan woodcarving (Mexico)


Alanna Cant (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

My research addresses the village production and circulation of Oaxacan woodcarvings from southern Mexico in order to investigate how aesthetic practices and expectations of artisans and consumers are mediated by the historical, social and material contexts in which people and objects exist.

Paper long abstract:

My work is focused on Oaxacan woodcarvings which are made for the tourist and ethnic art markets of Mexico and North America. I am interested in how the production and circulation of aesthetic tropes are central to the movement of objects and ideologies of art, and I suggest that aesthetics can be understood anthropologically as an intersubjective practice in which different kinds of actors are engaged. I explore this model ethnographically through the three interrelated themes: (1) Aesthetic practices: how artisanal production is experienced aesthetically by artisans working in household workshops, and how their understandings of authorship, style and skill are influenced by their participation in tourist and ethnic art economies. (2) The construction of aesthetic genres: the development of genres in wood carving over time and their relationship to specific artistic forms and markets which I explore through the concepts of practice developed by Pierre Bourdieu and William W. Wood. In particular, I explore how American and Canadian understandings of indigeneity and the form and content of indigenous art have resulted in a new genre of Oaxacan woodcarving, but one that is also 'localized' into more traditional Oaxacan aesthetics of artesanĂ­as (craftwork). (3) The politics of aesthetic practice: how competition, intellectual property claims, and indigenous and national identities are (re)produced through aesthetic practices. I connect this theme to larger debates within anthropology about globalization, the production of value, and the relations of power involved in the production and definition of 'culture.'

panel L200
Anthropologies of art