(P104)
Indigenous Material Culture and Representation
Location Brunei Gallery - B201
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 13:30
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Cinthya Lana (King's College) email

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Short abstract

The panel focuses on the development of experimentalism in the fields of ethnography, material culture studies and museum anthropology as an aftermath of the 'crisis of representation', by discussing case studies focused on Melanesia, Taiwan, North American Northwest Coast, Peru and Amazonia.

Long abstract

The predicament of representation formulated in the 1980s has triggered the development of experimentalism not only in ethnographic writings, but also in the fields of material culture studies and museum anthropology. On a methodological level, it also entailed the development of self-reflexivity and of more dialogical approaches, in which interested communities are involved in the decision-making, and also a renewed interest in indigenous material culture with a focus on their own concepts and systems of representation. This paradigmatic shift is also accompanied by a politicisation of the field, initiating a process of deconstruction of hierarchies, of redistribution of power/knowledge, and allowing for a questioning of ethics and transparency.

This 'crisis of representation' was therefore key in injecting dynamism to the fields of ethnography, museum anthropology and material culture studies and opening up a multiplicity of approaches. Drawing from case studies based on Melanesia, Mexico, Taiwan, North American Northwest Coast, Peru and Amazonia, this panel will discuss the question of representation of indigenous material culture from a variety of angles including: the links between indigenous material culture with ethno-historical and cosmological narratives, the representation of indigenous peoples in museum exhibitions (and the indigenous critique thereof), the reclaiming of ancient cultural heritage and identity and the question of change of material culture in face of globalization.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Raising mental monuments. Notes on the mnemonic processes embedded in Ni-Vanuatu sandroing.

Author: Jacopo Baron (EHESS) email

Short abstract

Ni-Vanuatu sandroing is an ephemeral iconographic tradition but, in spite of that, many scholars recognized it as a traditional mnemonic device. Based on data I collected on the field, I will try to deal with this apparent paradox and to explore this unique, fascinating system to produce memory.

Long abstract

In this intervention I propose a new approach to the study of the Ni-Vanuatu iconographic tradition known as sandroing. This ephemeral practice, once spread in the Central and Northern island of the Vanuatu Republic (Island Melanesia), consists in tracing in the soil, with the index finger of the right hand, an ephemeral, usually complex, geometrical image, whose achievement is complemented or followed by an oral commentary. Despite their material transience, sandroings have been recently recognized as "important mnemonic devices for recalling oral information about local histories, indigenous cosmologies, kinship systems, and scientific knowledge" (Zagala 2004). Relying on data collected during recent fieldwork in the island of Ambrym, I will try to deal with the apparent paradox embedded in this art, which involves the production of ephemeral images and, at the same time, ensures their remembrance. My analysis will focus on how local sandroings are created, memorized, bodily preserved and recalled and on how sandroing structure may be linked to broader Melanesian features, such as the social importance attributed to knowledge, the key role played by secrecy, and the potential of transient artifacts. This may enable us to get a better understanding of this body technique, and to begin to consider the opportunity of a comparative exercise involving other Melanesian arts of memory.

From fishing to fashion: The aesthetics of Indigenous products in contemporary Taiwan

Author: Giulia Mengato (SOAS) email

Short abstract

This paper examines how the changing of aesthetics of Indigenous Taiwanese products allows for the culture of these ethnic minorities to be re-evaluated following a stereotyping process imposed upon them by global systems of mass production.

Long abstract

Within the context of globalisation, cross-cultural exchanges are now commonplace thanks to trade, immigration and tourism. At the same time, these factors have also standardised and homogenised cultural products, endangering specific material productions belonging to minority ethnic identities. According to Appadurai (1986), the meaning and value of objects can change in space and in time, a concept poignant in contemporary Taiwan, where the traditional utensils, handicrafts and technologies of the Indigenous tribes have been threatened by global influences and have changed their obsolete functions to fit modern purposes and aesthetics. From a practical subsistence perspective, these items are now "actively used in social and individual self- creation" (Olsen, 2003: 91) by the Indigenous groups and "have the ability to tell multiple stories" (Gosselain, 2000: 189) by becoming tools of self-representation, illustrating the deep bonds between these cultures and their land and natural environment. In 2011, the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung (TW) held the exhibition Form, Colour, Pattern, and Texture: A microscopic journey through the living aesthetics of Taiwan's indigenous peoples, promoting the aesthetic reconsideration of Taiwanese Indigenous art, which has been stereotyped and vulgarised by the mass production of Aboriginal souvenirs in touristic areas. This paper examines how Taiwanese Aborigines are once again finding pride and prestige in their previously undervalued material cultures through new aesthetic forms; creating products that can "represent the culture and heritage of the tourist destination" (Hume, 2013:5) and making possible an "exchange of experience and information and emotional response" (Hume, 2013:8).

Indigenous Representation In a Different Light

Author: Amanda Sorensen (University of British Columbia ) email

Short abstract

I explore how Northwest Coast communities are represented in museums from Indigenous visiting perspectives. Drawing on focus group sessions conducted with urban, Indigenous students and the exhibition development team, I explore the Museum of Anthropology's (MOA) exhibition In a Different Light.

Long abstract

Collaboration between museums and Indigenous communities has been explored during exhibition creation (Shannon 2014; Wilson 2016), object preservation (Clavir 2002), and processes of repatriation (Krmpotich 2013). However, limited attention has been given to the reception of an exhibition from those whose culture is displayed (Kramer 2015; Frank 2000). I explore how Northwest Coast communities are represented in museums from Indigenous visiting perspectives. Drawing on focus group sessions conducted with urban, Indigenous/ First Nations students and the exhibition development team, I explore the Museum of Anthropology's (MOA) In a Different Light. This exhibition space presents historic, Indigenous artwork with reference to artist and scholar perspectives on story and enduring connection to land. In addition, objects are presented in natural lighting conditions, highlighting and avoiding display practices which tend to exoticize the "other." Ultimately, I examine how Indigenous perspectives on exhibitions and collaboration after exhibit installation can promote further decolonization of the museum as an educational institution. As exhibits are technologies of representation embedded in Western epistemologies, investigating this museum structure and a wider breadth of perspectives can serve to further decolonized and indigenized museum practice.

Returning the Past to an Imagined Present: How The Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911 Created an Inca Heritage

Author: Charlotte M. Williams (University of Cambridge) email

Short abstract

In 1911, Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham claimed that his Quechua workmen were unrelated to the noble Inca Empire. 100 years later, the Peruvian government demanded that Yale return the artifacts given Peru’s Inca heritage, demonstrating how Bingham’s expedition and the removal of Machu Picchu’s history sparked debates around a modern Inca identity.

Long abstract

Yale University Professor Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911 spurred an international interest in the Inca Empire, and with it, a dispute with the Peruvian government over who had rightful jurisdiction and curatorship over Inca history. By 2011, the Peruvian government initiated a legal battle for the return of artifacts that Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu, successfully returning them not to the site of Machu Picchu, but to Cusco, employing the rationale that the ancient Inca capital housed descendent citizens of the Inca empire. This conflation of the past and present can be traced to a largely unanalyzed study that accompanied Bingham’s expedition: an ethnographic study of Inca descendants, which at the time marketed indigenous Peruvian Andean peoples as remnants of a lost civilization, using Cusco as an assumed repository for people with “Inca” characteristics. This study draws from the original Yale Peruvian Expedition archives, the Cusco newspaper library archives, and in-depth interviews with curators of the Inca Museum and Machu Picchu Museum to analyze the intellectual and political conflict that emerged as a reaction to the ethnographic study, and how the study articulated with an inflating tourism market attempting to define what it meant to be Inca to an international public. The construction of the modern Inca as both directors of tourism management and purveyors of their archaeological material culture points to a unique case in which modern Peruvian citizens could claim heritage to an Inca past despite a lack of recognition as a legally defined group. The result has far-reaching implications, since Bingham’s artifacts returned not necessarily to a traditional nation state, but to an imagined one, broadening the conditions under which informal repatriations can occur.

Key Words

Archaeology of Memory, Imagined Communities, Incanismo, Repatriation

The Hidden and the Unknown: Amazonian Exhibitions at the British Museum

Author: Cinthya Lana (King's College) email

Short abstract

The paper will discuss two temporary exhibitions focused on the Amazonian region organised by the British Museum, Hidden Peoples from the Amazon (1985) and Unknown Amazon (2001).

Long abstract

The paper will discuss two temporary exhibitions focused on the Amazonian region organised by the British Museum, Hidden Peoples from the Amazon (1985) and Unknown Amazon (2001). The first exhibition, which took place at the Museum of Mankind, drawn extensively from visual/historical sources from both the 19th and mid 20th century to construct life-size dioramas, while the second put forward the archaeological argument of a deeper history of occupation in the region, drawing from recent archaeological research. The first exhibition was involved in a controversy over their (mis)representation of the contemporary life of indigenous peoples, which also played a role in the development of the subsequent exhibition. The paper will also discuss the role of controversies in the shaping exhibition practices.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.