What is the place of art and aesthetics in the anthropology of the state? What is the place of the state in the anthropology of art? This panel will bridge the anthropology of art and of the state through a comparative exploration that draws on a broad range of ethnographic case studies.
What is the place of art and aesthetics in the anthropology of the state? What is the place of the state in the anthropology of art? The second question seems more universal in a comparative ethnographic perspective — the state is a recognizable artistic patron across societies — while the first seems denote legacies of authoritarianism. Existing scholarship in this field takes its cue from Benjamin's observations about the 'aestheticization of politics' under fascism, as well as from the role of art, from constructivism to socialist realism, in Soviet-type societies. This line of research is contingent on the understanding of art as a specific modern cultural concept, the one that isolates aesthetics as an autonomous field and re-assembles it with politics in specific locations. But this view holds neither for contemporary art, which critiques this 'purely aesthetic' perspective, nor for the contemporary anthropology of art — specifically for Alfred Gell's reconceptualizaton of art as a form of agency. How might the relationship of the anthropology of the state and the anthropology of art look like given these two advances? What, from this point of view, is the relationship between the state and political aesthetics today? In what ways might contemporary governance be approached as an art? What is contemporary political art, and what are modalities of contemporary politicized art? The panel seeks a comparative exploration of these questions that would draw on a broad range of ethnographic case studies.