Material subjectivities and artistic expression in visual anthropology
Location SOAS Senate House - S116
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Rebekah Cupitt (Birkbeck, University of London) email

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Short abstract

Radical artistic expression in visual anthropology holds the potential to develop visual ethnographic representations beyond the paradigm of voyeur/exotic 'other'. Can artistic expression, digital technologies, participatory visual methods intertwine and further decolonise visual anthropology.

Long abstract

This panel considers how respecting the diverse material subjectivities of those we research with in visual ethnographic representations can coincide with radical artistic expression from an anthropological perspective. The visual anthropologist as 'voyeur' and 'medium', ready to exoticise an 'other', has gradually been replaced by the understanding that the images we create are representations of other worlds, seen through the "ethnographer's eye". A re-thinking of visual anthropology's methods emerged in response to critique of the ethnographer's control over the image and its narrative. This coincided with the emergence of visual media technologies that were portable, inexpensive and accessible, such as mobile phone cameras. The accompanying participatory visual methods have also been key in moves to de-colonise anthropology through ethnographic practice. Both are critical to the exploration of artistic forms of expression. They create new subjectivities, as the distinction between filmmaker/photographer/anthropologist and the 'subject' blur. New technologies and methods that take the camera out of the hands of the anthropologist also promise to dismantle the point-and-shoot paradigm as the ethnographer too is drawn into the image and captured 'in action'. This panel explores these changes in visual anthropology and examines the material practices through which a de-colonialised, participatory visual anthropology emerges. It raises the potential opportunities for anthropologists and those we research with, to develop new narrative forms and artistic expressions. The question is, can visual anthropology transition further into art while maintaining a consideration for culturally distinct, emic alternatives to established modes of ethnographic visual storytelling?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Films that Think and Feel: An Essay on 'Sense', the 'Senses', and Experimental Approaches to Ethnographic Filmmaking

Author: Pedro Afonso Branco Ramos Pinto (University of Brasília) email

Short abstract

Anthropology's renewed interest in the senses stands as the epistemological cornerstone of current experimental approaches to ethnographic cinema - but is it possible to move towards the realm of thought without capitulating to verbalism? Can experimental ethnographic films think, as well as feel?

Long abstract

Although anthropology has long incorporated filmmaking to its repertoire, its proper status within the discipline is still a matter of great contention. Central to these debates is a fundamental disagreement apropos the aptness of images and sounds to independently create knowledge - hence, voice-over narration, title cards, and subtitled interactions/interviews were considered essential for a film to convey any scholarly meaning. However, while the primacy of word over image once decidedly governed the discipline's relationship to films, renewed interest in the senses by contemporary anthropology stands as the epistemological cornerstone of current experimental approaches to ethnographic cinema. But is it possible to devise a theoretical framework that moves beyond the senses and towards the realm of thought without capitulating to verbalism? Can experimental ethnographic films think, as well as feel?

Combining analyses of existing films - as well as of the debates that gravitate around them - with reflections springing from the editing processes of multiple experimental ethnographic films, this paper seeks to reorient the relationship between images, sounds, and words in ethnographic cinema at the intersection between semiotics, film theory, psychology, and the anthropology of thought. Ultimately, this paper urges scholars and practitioners to more systematically approach experimental ethnographic filmmaking beyond a purely sensory paradigm in order to broaden and refine our understanding about rhetorical strategies specific to film and assess their appropriateness to the anthropological discourse.

Visualizing sound healing - representing multisensorial experiences through filmmaking

Author: Åshild S. F. Thorsen (University Museum of Bergen) email

Short abstract

This paper discusses how multisensorial experiences of sound can be represented within the frames of anthropological film.

Long abstract

The starting point of my PhD project in visual anthropology is the singing bowl, a metal artefact and musical instrument produced in Nepal, and how it is used in sound therapy and healing practices within globalized New Age religiosity and alternative medicine. In addition to hearing the sound of the singing bowl, the healing practices initiate a multisensorial experience of the object - engaging the visual and tactile senses.

This paper presents a collaboration with sound healers, whose practice with and experience of sound provides the foundation for an audiovisual representation of the healing session. The presentation discusses how the healers and their clients' multisensorial experiences can be represented in anthropological film, and how personal reactions and feelings are visualized and auralized in the project. When translated to an audiovisual media, the healers' engagement with the artefacts and the tones they give, raises questions on what sound is and what it is to hear.

On "the eye that listens" (Claudel)

Author: Mischa Twitchin (Goldsmiths, University of London) email

Short abstract

How might visual anthropology refract, as a question of its own media, the claim of fieldwork that "I saw this"?

Long abstract

For Deleuze, what distinguishes art is its resistance to "communication", in foregrounding means that are not reduced to the service of ends. The visual medium is not simply a transitive engagement with a subject understood to exist beyond it, being "represented", but rather concerns the very act of seeing - as conceived of (as its subject) by the film. In the form of tourist photographs taken of museum collections, what is being appropriated and then circulated? What testimony to a (perhaps latent) cosmology is offered in the relation between technics and imagination here? What kind of "voice" is evoked - as the supposed "subject" - by this ubiquitous practice of image making? What kinds of "ethno-fiction" (Augé) become possible in the guise, then, of an essay-film thanks to digital media? For Bazin, the voice in an essay-film is in reflexive dialogue with the image, rather than being identified with it - exposing an anthropological dimension to the visual medium itself. In this presentation, I will reflect on these conceptual histories of practice, using some examples of my own work, and attempt to explore what it might mean to say (with Taussig) "I swear I saw this" in an anthropological context.

Creating new formats, creating transcultural experiences?

Authors: Anja Veirman (Luca School of Arts Ghent/ La Cambre Bruxelles) email
Tiecoura N’Daou (Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Multimédia Balla Fasseké Kouyaté ) email

Short abstract

My presentation will include the discussion of two Audio Visual works that are part of the interactions and realisations of my project 'Mudcloth and the making of social and artistic fabric' in which we explore the possibilities of different representational formats.

Long abstract

My presentation will be based on two Audio Visual installations that I'm realising as part of the project 'Mudcloth and the making of social and artistic fabric. The interrelation between ritual, artistic and collective textile making, departing from a Senufo context (Burkina Faso, Mali). The project wants to create a deeper understanding of the contemporary evolutions in the making and wearing processes of mudcloth, and to document and visualize these practices.

Guided by an interdisciplinary methodology and transcultural ambition we explore new approaches in the conceptualizing and practice of artistic research and representational issues. Especially by combining the perspectives of an anthropological research with an artistic approach through a makers-perspective, and the realization of different forms of audiovisual co-creation. Partners are the Senufo Centre Réné Fournier, a museum/study center in Burkina Faso, the Malinese multimedia artist Tiécoura N'Daou, and LUCA School of Arts from Belgium.

By experimenting with different working methods - as collaborative documentary and experimental video-installations - we want to go into a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the making processes and the aesthetics of the makers and wearers of Fèrègefani - and explore the possibilities to share this experiences and concepts by the making of audio-visual works. The installation 'Intimacy-Visibility' is the first that will be on display in February 2018.

bodies-cities: Re-Imagining the Design of Public Spaces

Author: Manik Gunatilleke (OCAD University) email

Short abstract

bodies-cities explores how the entanglements of mind, body, and environment, could be mapped in an immersive virtual space. Situated at the intersection of architecture, place-making, and experiential design, the speculative design explores human embodied knowledge of an urban public site.

Long abstract

Through human sensory intra-actions with the ecological and built environment, the human species has left its mark on the biosphere of this planet; resulting in progressive and destructive trends in urban design. Given the implication of sensory embodied knowledge for the future of cities, the bodies-cities project takes the position that what worlds we create matter, and more so the spatial dimensions of our built environments. As cities grow and urban place-making adapts to growing populations and technological inventions, the urban worlds we create could articulate the lived experiences of humans through the architecture of public space. What knowledge sources we tap on to tell the tale of such human-material interactions at this moment in time, matters. Situated at the intersection of architecture, place-making, and experiential design, this speculative design process draws on feminist new materialist methodology and ethnographic methods, to propose alternative ways of discovering and applying spatial design knowledge as it emerges from the embodied experience of city dwellers. The research is accompanied by a virtual reality experience that reflects the embodied perception of a public site in Toronto, Canada.

Women-Only Spaces in the 21st Century in Western Societies. The Kenwood Ladies Pond, Hampstead Heath, London: A Visual Case Study.

Author: Félicie Kertudo (Royal College of Art) email

Short abstract

This paper seeks to reveal the inner dynamics of women-only spaces, drawing on a visual ethnographic case study of the Kenwood Ladies Pond, Hampstead Heath, London, United Kingdom. Gender is a notion in constant fluctuation. What does it mean to have exclusive spaces based on gender identity?

Long abstract

In the context of a national debate around the 2004 Gender Recognition Act update and its hypothetic impact on gender-exclusive spaces (e.g: sport competitions), academic research has the responsibility to provide information about the dynamics of those spaces. We need to address the problem by grounding the debate in the reality to give policy-makers the tools to reflect adequately on this sensitive, yet urgent, issue.

This is where my research stands. As a white, cisgender, female, I can access the Kenwood Ladies Pond. My purpose is to use my social position to explore this Women-Only space and hopefully reveals its inner dynamics. My aim is to show that a women-only space in a Western country survives because there is a demand for reinforcing a sense of community and safety.

How a space, having been traditionally identified according to a binary definition of gender, evolves in a society where this concept is constantly in flux?

My method draws on feminist qualitative research, grounded in second wave feminism and intersectionality. I take an ethnographic approach by going to the space and keeping a journal. Being a female swimmer, autoethnography run throughout my research. I will semi-structured interview up to ten swimmers. I will code my data with thematic analysis to highlights the issues that 'really' matter to my interviewees. Visual data (sketches, drawings, photographs) allows me and the reader to represent the subjective aspect of this space. Conducting the research in an art school pushes me towards visual representation of my research, such as displaying my visual documentation in an exhibition.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.