EASA2018: Staying, Moving, Settling
The panel explores the politics of moving and (un)settling visual arts, design and literature. Reflecting encounters of conflicting authority, knowledge and aesthetics ranging from curating to publishing, it also considers impacts on methods and writing genres, market, materiality and globalization.
Anthropologists researching arts and aesthetics used to be preoccupied with "non-Western" societies, often in the form of critique of appropriation of "non-Western" objects by "the West." With increasing transnational mobility since the early 1990s, the "Western/non-Western" distinction has become less clear. The notion of art now has multiple meanings. Besides the North-South mobility axis, the South-South one requires more attention. For an understanding of the politics of art projects and literature on the move, the idea of the social life of things is useful. So is an investigation into the impact of changing aesthetic judgments and values. Yet, an awareness of a mainstream geospatial diversity is not enough. There is the claim to articulate different types of knowledge brought together by selection processes from among global flows. This calls for an expansion of the ethnographic methodology of collaboration between anthropologists and artists in order to capture the agency of curating, publishing, and writing on art.
In this panel we bring together papers that discuss the politics of moving and (un)settling visual arts, design, literature etc. We are particularly interested in the following questions: How is cultural production challenged and validated in different places? Are South-South circulations of art and literature producing new global canons? What knowledge of the contemporary are expressed with what art(s)? Can research on an expanded notion of agency in the realm of art inspire new academic writing genres? What are the consequences for today's ethnographic museums?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Who was Flora Nwapa? Gender and Power in World Literature
Flora Nwapa was the first internationally published woman writer in Africa, yet she is not as well-known as male writers like Chinua Achebe. This paper explores women-centered storytelling and literary worldmaking from the perspective of gendered power relations in world literary canonization.
In 1966, Flora Nwapa's novel Efuru made literary history as the first internationally published novel by an African woman writer. Published as number 26 in the Heinemann African Writers Series, it pioneered novels by women writers in a series that shaped the African literary canon. Through the publication of Efuru, Flora Nwapa paved the way for African female writers in a male-dominated world of African and world literature. In the 1970s, Flora Nwapa established TANA Press, making her the first female publisher in post-independence African publishing. In 2016, Efuru@50 was celebrated in Nigeria, a five-city national celebration that attracted hundreds of participants in each location. The event revived Flora Nwapa's literary legacy, which had somehow fallen into oblivion, despite her pioneering role. By comparison, in 2018 the diamond jubilee of Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is celebrated in seven cities across Nigeria, in ten different African countries as well as in North America and Europe. The novel was published as number one in the African Writers Series and is considered one of Africa's greatest literary classics. While Chinua Achebe is well recognised in African and world literature canons, Flora Nwapa remains relatively unknown. Drawing on ethnographic research at Efuru@50, this paper explores gender and power in world literature. Probing the location and orientation of women writers in Nigeria, it discusses women-centered storytelling and literary worldmaking from the perspective of gendered power relations in world literary canonization.
WRITING TRUTH TO POWER: JONAS HASSEN KHEMIRI'S WORK IN STOCKHOLM AND NEW YORK
Drawing on a literary anthropological study of migrant writing in Sweden, this paper explores the work of Jonas Hassen Khemiri in Stockholm and New York. How come an open letter, a play and a novel that address issues of racial profiling and terrorist crimes in Sweden matter in the United States?
In my literary anthropological study of migrant writing in Sweden, focusing on fiction and journalism, the comparative perspective accentuates diversity. More often than not, this is cultural diversity as a contested issue, such as experiences of exclusion, even racism. Theoretically, the study combines ideas on world literature as the circulation of literary work from national to global contexts, and ideas on art worlds as social worlds. This paper explores the work of Swedish writer Jonas Hassen Khemiri, of partly Tunisian origin, in terms of cultural translation and comparison between Stockholm and New York. I discuss three texts by Khemiri in different writing genres: firstly, an open letter to Sweden's Minister of Justice which went viral in 2013 and was also published in the New York Times, about racial profiling in Stockholm; secondly, the play I Call My Brothers, written in response to a failed terrorist attack in Stockholm in 2010 and staged in New York; thirdly, the award-winning novel Everything I Don't Remember selected as a 2016 Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year. So why would Khemiri's open letter, play and novel that address new issues of power, stereotypes and physical appearance in Sweden matter in the United States, with its deep-rooted diversity? The conclusion is that the international success of these pieces has nothing to do with Sweden or an interest in Swedish contemporary life, but can be understood as local variations on the global themes of terrorist crimes and racial profiling.
'Cartonera' publishing in Latin America: Anthropology between art and literature
This paper addresses Latin American cartonera publishing, a grassroots phenomenon that involves the recycling of materials from the street to produce low-cost books making literature more accessible. How might this South-South circulation of art and literature stimulate anthropological methodology?
Editoriales cartoneras are small, independent publishing projects that make books out of recycled cardboard and sell them at prices much lower than books from larger publishing houses. Since the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, the movement has spread across and beyond Latin America, taking on various forms and socio-cultural aims: some retain strong links to waste-picker collectives; others work with immigrant groups, indigenous communities or school children; others are principally interested in disseminating their catalogues to a wider audience.
What is particular however about these publishers are the books themselves: each book's cover is unique and hand painted and thus proposes a tension between its status as an art object on the one hand, and a text on the other. These aestheticised objects cut through the multiple layers of social stigma that contextualise their production, starting from the recycling co-operatives where they are made before travelling to contemporary art biennials, book fairs and museum spaces.
As these books' social context is so key, any analysis must necessarily consider their production methods, organizational logics and social networks across Latin America. Ethnographic data and literary analysis must work together through an aesthetic encounter of form and content to fully engage with the agency of this particular form of knowledge production. How might this be achieved? This paper contextualises the cartonera movement before suggesting how ethnography, expography and literary analysis might be put into productive dialogue to address this particular form of unsettling art.
African and Oceanic art in the value system of auction houses
This paper investigates the marketing of ancient African and Oceanic art of Sotheby's and Christie's. By taking a look at the internal functioning of these auction firms and their sales strategies, this contribution analyses configurations and strategies of value creation in the auction market.
Recent anthropological research on the marketing of African and Oceanic art in auction houses has conceptualized the auction as a series of processes rather than a singular event. However, in their aim to understand how values and prices are constructed in the auction market, ethnographical investigations have mainly concentrated on the public part of the auction process, namely the catalogue, the carefully curated pre-auction exhibition and the sale.
This paper calls for broadening the scope of analysis by investigating business strategies, institutional aspects of auctions and the power of auction house brands. On the basis of an ethnographic study, I shall deal in the first part with the activities and specific types of knowledge of market agents involved in the process of sourcing, evaluating and marketing objects (business getting, valuation, cataloguing, client strategy, monitoring of competitors, etc.).
In the second part, I will focus on a particular strategy in the marketing of African and Oceanic art which capitalizes on their historical link to Modernism: Sotheby's and Christie's are strategically timing their Art of Africa and Oceania auctions and viewings to coincide with those of modern and contemporary art and with international art fairs to entice a younger generation of wealthy collectors. The paper will consider the implications of this marketing strategy concerning the canonization process of African and Oceanic art.
Transparent passages - reflecting on photographs in performance in India across local and global trends, past and present.
The present paper explores the possibility of an aesthetics of photography constructed in a dialogue across photography, storytelling and curation, vernacular and global influences on the basis of a couple of performances/exhibitions by Delhi-based director and lighting designer Zuleikha Chaudhary.
Tapping onto a couple of performances/exhibitions by Delhi-based director and lighting designer Zuleikha Chaudhary that have colonial photographs as their core focus, the present paper aims to explore the possibility of an aesthetics of photography constructed in a dialogue across photography, storytelling and curation and across vernacular and global influences. In the context of Chaudhary's work photographs cease to be indexical and representational items. Rather they are transparent tools, proper passages or portals bringing different media and forms of narration in touch with each other. Her position inserts not only elements of Indian visual culture in the terrain of photography but highlights also topics that can be observed in the contexts of emerging digital visualities. Her work hence call us to stitch together not only India and the West but also the past with the present. In this presentation I will also insert reflections regarding on my own personal experience with photographic self-portraiture and address matters of multidimensionality and materiality, of efficacy and magic, of resonance and wonder.
Whose curiosity is it? Reflections on an anthropology of aesthetics in the 21st century
nformed by visual anthropology and ethnographic film over the past sixty years, this paper proposes a rethinking of the relationship between phenomenology, aesthetics, and anthropology. It is inspired by the thoughts on art, aesthetics and philosophy of the Danish Cobra artist, Asger Jorn.
The title paraphrases that of a recent book by the anthropologist Nicholas Thomas and a seminal article by the ethnographic film-maker, David McDougall. Informed by the development of visual anthropology and ethnographic film over the past sixty years, this paper proposes a rethinking of the relationship between phenomenology, aesthetics, and anthropology. It is inspired by the thoughts on art, aesthetics and philosophy of the Danish Cobra artist, Asger Jorn. While he focused on visual art, this presentation will explore, referring to filmic examples, the potential contribution of ethnographic film to re-contextualise anthropological notions of knowledge.
Dak'Art: Between Antinomies of Art and a New Global Art Canon
Art experts today argue that biennials produce a new global art canon. This assumption will be examined from the perspective of Dakar's 'Biennale of Contemporary African Art.' Does the dominance of installation art imply such a global canon, and what is the impact on regional art practices?
Some experts nowadays express a biennial fatigue—due to the unprecedented global overproduction of the biennial format that produces and replicates a biennial art, that is another universal canon of contemporary art. I argue that such considerations are the consequences of both the work of internationally acting curators as well as a Western European/North American centred view of experts on so-called world top biennial formats.
I shall examine this assumption of a new universal contemporary art canon from the perspective of Dakar's 'Biennale of Contemporary African Art.' Of course, one could argue that Dak'Art has substituted curating regionalism to global multitude. More interesting is the assertion of antinomies of art as characteristic of present-day global contemporary art practices. Instead of restricting the Biennale to regional loyalties, this latter view indeed positions Dak'Art in a counter-discourse to the triadic connection biennial-biennial art-universal art canon.
Yet, installation art has been dominating many editions of the Biennale's central venue, and since 2000 most of the grand prizes have been awarded to works of this art form. Insofar as some art theorists and biennial curators consider this art form as one of the two most important ones of the present, I thus shall investigate (a) whether this is due to dominant global art discourses, and (b) in which way this impacts on overall local and regional art practices of African artists.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.