Accepted Paper:

Asia through art and anthropology: the artist as cultural translator  


Fuyubi Nakamura (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

Asian art is a topic that has rarely been examined by anthropologists. This paper explores the emerging roles of artists as cultural translators by examining the experiences of contemporary artists with connections to Asia who create and show artworks that negotiate diverse cultural contexts.

Paper long abstract:

Many Asian cultures possess highly developed artistic traditions of their own, and such production was until recently considered a matter for art historians rather than anthropologists. However, the recognition of forms and practices as 'art' within various Asian cultures may also be a source of misinterpretation ―subtleties being invisible by virtue of apparent similarities. A number of scholarly works have questioned classifications such as fine art, folk art, primitive art or popular art, yet they have still done so largely by adopting how these categories are understood in Euro-American discourse. Research into the history of art has also been slow in recognizing modern and contemporary Asian arts on their own terms rather than as poor reflections of Western art.

Artists trained in the field of 'traditional' art―from Buddhist mural paintings to classical calligraphy―often struggle for recognition in the global artworld unless they incorporate 'modern' art elements into their work. At the same time, certain markers of 'ethnicity' or recognisable cultural icons―such as the Buddha or Asian scripts―have been common features in the artworks by internationally successful artists from Asia. This paper discusses the experiences of artists born in Asia who have moved between different countries and/or traditions, and explores how they have worked to deal with the issues of identity through and in their work. The paper considers in what ways artists operate as 'cultural translators' who may act as local representatives and as transcultural agents.

Panel P021
Converging worlds: anthropology and art history (JASCA panel)