Accepted Paper:

Masks of the Canela Indians of Brazil: A Study of the Photographic and Film Collection  


Fabiola Iuvaro (Research Unit at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art of Oceania, Africa the Americas)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides an introduction to the anthropology of Dr. William Crocker and his recording enterprise, the Festival of Masks, performed in 1970, in a degree of detail and in a manner, that is, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented.

Paper long abstract:

William Crocker began field research with the Canela in 1957 and continued to do so intermittently until 2011. Photography and film played a major part in his observation and his use of these media proved extremely innovative in ethnographic study. Until now, these recordings have been largely unexamined and academically undervalued, and the footage about the group's ceremonial life was almost unknown to anthropological and general audiences. This paper uses the visual materials to analyse the ethnographic content of the Festival of Masks.

The ceremony takes place over several days, in which the participants disguise themselves with Masks. Begging, shame and compassion are the most important picture-like qualities of the Masks. The focus of my work traces Crocker's process of recording 'raw' photographs and footage about bodily-mask expressions and movements, in order to demonstrate that these images can be used as data to reassess Canela personhood. The discussion, firstly follows Crocker's attention on the Festival, then turns to how the Festival achieves the task of helping to construct personal 'selves' as part of a nexus of social relations. I argue that the ceremony presents an important way by which the Canela conceptualise the nature of being a human: the central importance of sharing in the formation of Canela personhood.

This affective and emotional resonance of Crocker's archives demonstrates the important role of his records to access new insights and in supporting individual and collective Canela stories. The Festival of Masks can be seen as a model for how to live.

Panel P102
Art beyond visual (cognitive designs) as creative praxis: A nexus for uncertain worldview