Accepted Paper:

The performing body-in-space through the lens: The Living Museum in Namibia  


Alicja Khatchikian (University of Vienna)
Goda Palekaite (University of Vienna)

Paper short abstract:

The project conceives body and space as one inseparable organism (body-in-space), and it investigates its performative and visual perception in the case of the San people and the context of commodification of their culture in Namibia. The project thus explores phenomenological problems through photography.

Paper long abstract:

The Living Museum in Grashoek, small village in the Kalahari Desert, invites visitors to experience the "authentic" and "traditional" together with the Ju/'hoansi San community. The culture of the San (also called Bushmen) is known as one of the world's oldest and the performed heritage easily attracts the touristic gaze. However, by performing the "original" lifestyle in a fictional village, the San do not practice their traditions otherwise.

In January 2014, a group of graduate students from the Social and Cultural Anthropology Dept., University of Vienna travels to Namibia to investigate how the commodification of culture affects the life of the San. The research will result in a scientific collection edited by Werner Zips.

Within this frame, we, Alicja Khatchikian and Goda Palekaite, develop a project of visual anthropology that focuses on the perception of the San-space, and the performance of the San-body within it. We are concerned with the inseparable relation between body and its environment that is perceived, according to Ingold, through embodied capacities or skills, where action and interaction is prior to structure. Further, following Foucault, we investigate the San performative experience as a technique for self-sustainability.

Along with participant observation, photography is our key-method for capturing visual and performative qualities of the body-in-space: while exploring "for-sale" Bushmen heritage such as hunting, ritual dancing, as well as life in "original" clay huts, photography becomes necessary to represent the non-verbal and non-structural perception. The camera lens enables sensorial qualities of light, texture, touch, etc. to play an equal role, thus becoming photography expression of phenomenological language rather than mere documentation.

Panel P28
Photography as a research method