P002
Art as Ethnography/Ethnography as Art
Convenors:
Max Carocci (Royal Anthropological Institute)
Stephanie Pratt
Format:
Panels
Location:
British Museum - Anthropology Library
Start time:
3 June, 2018 at 9:00
Session slots:
4

Short abstract:

This panel addresses the role of artworks as ethnographic resource in the age before photography. Raising questions about the objectivity of images from fieldwork diaries to scientific illustration, it examines pictures' accuracy as ethnographic documents and their reliability as forms of knowledge.

Long abstract:

Sketches, drawings, watercolours, and paintings have historically been used to illustrate ethnographies and fieldwork notebooks. In this panel we analyse how illustrations can be taken as potential objective forms of knowledge, and how they can inform new understandings of the ways in which anthropologists visualise evidence, or picture the realities they observe. The proposed session gives an opportunity to scrutinise the claims made for images/pictures as purveyors of data. This may reveal important facets of the processes involved in memory retrieval and the act of seeing/observing central to the anthropological method. The panel aims at examining what is the role of artistic illustrations in producing anthropological knowledge especially when no other means of visual recording are available. Highlighting the nexus between the witnessed and the rhetorical, the panel's focus is the relationship between visuality and narrative in constructing ethnography. Frequently only complementary to text-based evidence, images produced by anthropologists raise questions about their value, reliability, authority, and objectivity. Given that all images inevitably rely on conventions of representation, the quality of information in anthropological illustration is dependent on effective utilisation of the prevalent conventions by the maker and the consumer of the illustration. Studying of these conventions allows us to work with them, to assess how well anthropological information has been conveyed, but also to look beyond them at the surplus every image necessarily brings with it.