The panel seeks to fuse and revise Alfred Gell and Marilyn Strathern's respective theories of the person by exploring their concepts of agency and gender in relationship to art created in the historical moment.
The most provocative and influential theory of aesthetics in anthropology over the last few decades is Alfred Gell's Art & Agency. Indeed, it is the only anthropological paradigm of art to have captivated scholars in other disciplines. But Gell's formulation, while useful, suffers from several significant flaws, in particular, a concept of the person lacking in gender and uninformed by history. This dual omission becomes especially problematic in regard to the analysis of art in post-colonial settings whereby men, women, and other genders have undergone significant transformation in and against the globalizing ideologies and institutions with which they live. Gell's ungendered notion of the person is all the more pronounced when juxtaposed with Marilyn Strathern's magisterial 1988 opus, The Gender of the Gift, whose influence in the discipline and beyond remains enormous. Yet Strathern's paradigm, focusing on the partible or divisible person and the interaction between same-sexed and cross-sexed relations, also elides history. Neither she nor Gell, for example, situate persons or material objects in colonial or post-colonial eras; and thus they do not recognize modernity, either in singular or plural formations. In this panel, we seek to fuse and revise Gell and Strathern's respective theories of the person by exploring their concepts of agency and gender in relationship to art created in the historical moment.