Art beyond visual (cognitive designs) as creative praxis: A nexus for uncertain worldview
Location SOAS Senate House - S113
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 15:30
Sessions 1


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Short abstract

Research in role of power in artistic performance and ritual has undergone an embodied turn (beyond bodily static experience) reflecting cognition (creative action with time & space) in contemporary artistic anthropology. This panel explores the privatization and dissemination of this dynamic knowledge in evolving a global nexus for uncertainty.

Long abstract

None provided.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The artistry of tradition. Challenging spaces and conceptual boundaries through performance art.

Author: Silvia Forni (Royal Ontario Museum) email

Short abstract

This paper looks at the works of two contemporary artists Hervé Youmbi and Elisabeth Efua Sutherland and their engagement with traditional practices, the anthropological literature interpreting these practices, and the researchers investigating these contexts.

Long abstract

Art can be a very powerful mean of affective communication. Historically anthropologists have grappled with the way in which performance and ritual can be effective in building community and reinforcing culturally acceptable normative behaviour. Though disruption and rule breaking are often at the core of ritual performance, these are played within acceptable and culturally sanctioned spaces and boundaries in ways that ultimately reinforces a society's status quo. This paper looks at the works of two contemporary artists Hervé Youmbi and Elisabeth Efua Sutherland who, in different ways and contests, research and intervene on traditional performance in ways that echo and disrupt anthropological approaches. Based in Cameroon and Ghana respectively, these artists engage on the one hand with the traditional practices of their own cultures of origin, while at the same time establishing a self-conscious dialogue with the anthropological literature interpreting these practices and the researchers investigating these contexts. Based on long term conversations with Youmbi and a more recent relationship with Sutherland, I reflect on the shared theoretical questions that inform academic and artistic investigations, but also on the very different products and outcomes that these lead to. Furthermore, I question the varying import of the spaces and places of fruition of the academic and artistic research and the rather powerful affective and practical outcomes of artistic performances held in community spaces or in contemporary art settings.

Masks of the Canela Indians of Brazil: A Study of the Photographic and Film Collection

Author: Fabiola Iuvaro (Research Unit at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art of Oceania, Africa & the Americas) email

Short abstract

This paper provides an introduction to the anthropology of Dr. William Crocker and his recording enterprise, the Festival of Masks, performed in 1970, in a degree of detail and in a manner, that is, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented.

Long abstract

William Crocker began field research with the Canela in 1957 and continued to do so intermittently until 2011. Photography and film played a major part in his observation and his use of these media proved extremely innovative in ethnographic study. Until now, these recordings have been largely unexamined and academically undervalued, and the footage about the group's ceremonial life was almost unknown to anthropological and general audiences. This paper uses the visual materials to analyse the ethnographic content of the Festival of Masks.

The ceremony takes place over several days, in which the participants disguise themselves with Masks. Begging, shame and compassion are the most important picture-like qualities of the Masks. The focus of my work traces Crocker's process of recording 'raw' photographs and footage about bodily-mask expressions and movements, in order to demonstrate that these images can be used as data to reassess Canela personhood. The discussion, firstly follows Crocker's attention on the Festival, then turns to how the Festival achieves the task of helping to construct personal 'selves' as part of a nexus of social relations. I argue that the ceremony presents an important way by which the Canela conceptualise the nature of being a human: the central importance of sharing in the formation of Canela personhood.

This affective and emotional resonance of Crocker's archives demonstrates the important role of his records to access new insights and in supporting individual and collective Canela stories. The Festival of Masks can be seen as a model for how to live.

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Tibetan Buddhist Tantric art (semiotic cognitive designs) turn to reflexive praxis: A global nexus for the unchallenged

Author: Nupur Pathak email

Short abstract

Semiotic cognitive designs of Tibetan Buddhist Tantric art which can be traced back to 7th century A.D. in Tibet liberate beings from sufferings and resolve unchallenged reality in stressed global culture, through extended cognitive designs in creative actions & accuracy (i.e. reflexive praxis).

Long abstract

Ethnographic exploration claims Tibetan Buddhist Tantric cognitive designs (symbols, dots, small circles, empty space- revolving in radio-carbon background) transcribed into, gold or silvery whirls of smoke on walls or cloth, have evolved since 7th century A.D. to harness hybridized power and enhance the physical (byin), spiritual ('phrul) 'superhuman' qualities. This vision restructured into Tibetan Buddhist Tantric art e.g. gtor ma, mandala, thangka paintings which act as meditative tools for embodied sacrifice of senses and the self as well as to pacify and resist anti-hybridized power which dissolves mundane world & beyond into oneness (non-dualism) i.e. the liberation of sufferings ( global nexus for unchallenged).

The genre of cognitive designs focuses ethnographic knowledge not only through calligraphic folios of archived 17th century Gold Manuscript but also from the ritualistic practices by the immigrant Tibetans in India at Dharamsala.

Present study explores how Tibetan Tantric cognitive designs evolve in modern world to resolve socio-political crises in stressed global culture.

Global movement for blended Tibetan Buddhism (East- West) gives birth to extended cognitive designs (beyond brain & neural activity) through sculptures and images focusing on powers of extended perception with democratic potentiality which has invigorated Buddhist 'superhuman' depictions.

But how can one implement this text- based evidence in daily life?

This offers an image through creative actions & accuracy, which enhances one's potentiality beyond the limit i.e. (reflexive praxis). Paradoxically it meets the needs of competitive market economy & cosmopolitan consumers. In reality, it displaces conflicting psyche, thus throwing light on unchallenged worldview.

Mayan offering vessels as tools for creation

Author: Ana Somohano Eres (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) email

Short abstract

This paper focuses in the creative feature of the Maya offering vessels. The iconography expressed on them, as well as the offerings they contained, expressly recreated the aquatic environment, considered by the Maya a setting for creation, elicited by the drying of the environment.

Long abstract

Research on pre-Columbian art in America has been based on methodologies and concepts designed to understand occidental art. Consequently, pre-Colonial artistic manifestations have been analysed either from an aesthetic point of view, or as sources of information about the pre-Conquest cultures. Even though these approaches are undoubtedly enriching and give us a profound knowledge of the pre-Columbian art, many times they disregard other roles that art played in these societies.

Alfred Gell's studies of anthropology of art in other parts of the world, and his highlighting the agency intrinsic to the different artistic manifestations, resulted in various specialists in native American art questioning themselves about the agency of art in their areas of study, mainly in the Amazonian rainforest, a line of research that has rendered fascinating results. Despite the fact that these approaches have not been extensively used in the study of pre-Columbian societies, they have been recently applied to the Maya culture, demonstrating, for instance, that Maya stelae could be part of the dividual body of the Maya ruler.

This paper aims to use this perspective in the study of the offering vessels of the Prehispanic Maya. Following the premise that for the Maya, the aquatic environment was a setting of potential creation which was activated upon desiccation, I will analyse how the iconography and contents of those vessels recreated the aquatic environment. Furthermore, these vessels were exposed to fire during ritual activities, thus promoting their creative agency. Hence, Maya offerings vessels were a tool for creating the world.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.