Paper short abstract:
Co-authored by a cultural anthropologist and a multi-media artist, this paper describes a framework for doing artist-led ethnography. It is based on the research in anthropology of food and shares the experience of creating a collaborative art installation with members of our host communities.
Paper long abstract:
This paper suggests a framework for doing artist-led ethnography. It outlines the methodology and theoretical insights emerging in the course of two ethnographic investigations, both focusing on the knowledge, skills, values, practices, and experiences surrounding food. Both investigations take place in the process of preparing an art installation, which the authors, who are a cultural anthropologist and a multi-media artist, produced collaboratively with the advisors in our host communities. At the core of our approach is working toward an art show on a topic that speaks to a local lived experience, has a materially expressed dimension, and is of mutual interest to the researchers and community members. What we are learning is that while providing a prolific mode for ethnographic engagement, a jointly conceived art co-production fuels a certain form of agency. This agency enhances the critically minded involvement by those known as informants or consultants, or by other terms used in different traditions of ethnography. Alongside the social and historical insight at local and regional levels, the ethnography generated through this process enables a broad anthropological reflection on individuality and universals in aesthetic expression. While our research focuses on food and is set in the Circumpolar North (one investigation is taking place in the Indigenous communities of the Bering Strait region, whose livelihoods rely heavily on hunting, and the other is in an immigrant farmer settlement in subarctic Alaska) we posit that the described approach is broadly implementable in the study of material practices and their surrounding social contexts.
Doing, making, collaborating: art as anthropology