The anthropology of art and the art of anthropology : a complex relationship

Allen, Rika (2008-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Sociology and Social Anthropology))--University of Stellenbosch, 2008.


It has been said that anthropology operates in “liminal spaces” which can be defined as “spaces between disciplines”. This study will explore the space where the fields of art and anthropology meet in order to discover the epistemological and representational challenges that arise from this encounter. The common ground on which art and anthropology engage can be defined in terms of their observational and knowledge producing practices. Both art and anthropology rely on observational skills and varying forms of visual literacy to collect and represent data. Anthropologists represent their data mostly in written form by means of ethnographic accounts, and artists represent their findings by means of imaginative artistic mediums such as painting, sculpture, filmmaking and music. Following the so-called ‘ethnographic turn’, contemporary artists have adopted an ‘anthropological’ gaze, including methodologies, such as fieldwork, in their appropriation of other cultures. Anthropologists, on the other hand, in the wake of the ‘writing culture’ critique of the 1980s, are starting to explore new forms of visual research and representational practices that go beyond written texts.

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