Unpacking Culture

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Unpacking Culture
Woodrow (Woody) Crumbo (Potowatomi, 1912-89), Land of Enchantment, c. 1946,
watercolor on board (17.5 x 23 inches). Gift of Clark Field. The Philbrook
Museum of Art. Reproduced by permission.
Unpacking Culture
Art and Commodity
in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds
EDITED BY
Ruth B. Phillips and
Christopher B. Steiner
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS
Berkeley Los Angeles London
University of California Press
Berkeley and Los Angeles, California
University of California Press, Ltd.
London, England
© 1999 by
The Regents of the University of California
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Unpacking culture: art and commodity in colonial and postcolonial worlds / edited
by Ruth B. Phillips and Christopher B. Steiner.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-520-20797-4 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Tourist trade and art. 2. Art and society. 3. Art-Economic aspects.
I. Phillips, Ruth B. (Ruth Bliss), 1945- II. Steiner, Christopher Burghard.
N72.T68U57 1999
306-4’7-dc21 98-38035
CIP
Printed in the United States of America
10 09 08
12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO
Z39-48-1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper). S
CONTENTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS / ZX
PREFACE / xiii
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
1. Art, Authenticity, and the Baggage of Cultural Encounter
Ruth B. Phillips and Christopher B. Steiner / 3
2. My Father’s Business
FrankEttawageshik / 20
PART ONE· CONSTRUCTING THE OTHER:
PRODUCTION AS NEGOTIATION
3. Nuns, Ladies, and the “Queen of the Huron”:
Appropriating the Savage in Nineteenth-Century Huron Tourist Art
Ruth B. Phillips / 33
4. Tourist Art as the Crafting of Identity in the Sepik River (Papua New Guinea)
Eric Kline Silverman / 5 I
5. Samburu Souvenirs: Representations of a Land in Amber
Sidney Littlefield Knsfir / 67
PART TWO· AUTHENTICITY: THE PROBLEM
OF MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION
6. Authenticity, Repetition, and the Aesthetics of Seriality:
The Work of Tourist Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
Christopher B. Steiner / 87
vi Contents
7. Northwest Coast Totem Poles
AldonaJonaitis / I04
8. Master, Machine, and Meaning:
Printed Images in Twentieth-Century India
Stephen R Inglis / I22
PART THREE· ARTISTIC INNOVATION
AND THE DISCOURSES OF IDENTITY
9. Elizabeth Hickox and Karuk Basketry:
A Case Study in Debates on Innovation and Paradigms of Authenticity
Marvin Cohodas / I43
10. Threads of Tradition, Threads ofInvention:
Unraveling Toba Batak Women’s Expressions of Social Change
Sandra Niessen / I62
11. Drawing (upon) the Past:
Negotiating Identities in Inuit Graphic Arts Production
Janet Catherine Berlo / I78
PART FOUR· (RE)FASHIONING GENDER
AND STEREOTYPE IN TOURISTIC PRODUCTION
12. Gender and Sexuality in Mangbetu Art
Enid Schildkrout / I97
13. Defining Lakota Tourist Art, 1880-1915
Marsha C. Bol / 2I4
14. Studio and Soiree:
Chinese Textiles in Europe and America, 1850 to the Present
Verity Wilson / 229
15. The Indian Fashion Show
Nancy]. Parezo / 243
PART FIVE· COLLECTING CULTURE
AND CULTURES OF COLLECTING
16. Tourism and Taste Cultures:
Collecting Native Art in Alaska at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Molly Lee / 267
17. Tourism Is Overrated:
Pueblo Pottery and the Early Curio Trade, 1880-1910
Jonathan Batkin / 282
Contents vii
PART SIX· STAGING TOURIST ART:
CONTEXTS FOR CULTURAL CONSERVATION
18. Indian Villages and Entertainments:
Setting the Stage for Tourist Souvenir Sales
Trudy Nicks / 30I
19. Art, Tourism, and Cultural Revival in the Marquesas Islands
Carol S. Ivory / p6
EPILOGUE: Ethnic and Tourist Arts Revisited
Nelson H. H. Graburn / 335
NOTES / 355
REFERENCES / 373
CONTRIBUTORS / 407
INDEX / 4I I
ILLUSTRATIONS
2.1 Odawa men in front of Joseph Ettawageshik’s store in Harbor Springs,
Michigan, c. 1938 / 2I
2.2 Joseph Ettawageshik in his store, c. 1920 / 22
2.3 The fifth Ettawageshik shop in Harbor Springs, c. 1940 / 23
2.4 Frank and Marianne Ettawageshik in front of their store in
Karlin, Michigan, c. 1990 / 27
3.1 Lady’s reticule, attributable to French-Canadian nuns,
late eighteenth century / 39
3.2 Embroidered bark base for a lady’s reticule, attributable to
French-Canadian nuns, late eighteenth century / 40
3.3 English or Euro-Canadian workbox formerly belonging to
Mrs. Benedict Arnold, 1791 / 42
3-4 English or Euro-Canadian tea caddy, late eighteenth century / 43
3·5 Huron-Wendat cigar or cigarette case, 1847 / 47
4.1 Tourists looking at art for sale in Tambunum village,
Papua New Guinea / 58
4.2 Stylized variations of the national emblem and mask with
emergent crocodiles in Tambunum village / 60
4.3 Multiple faces: masks in Tambunum village / 6I
4.4 Mask with crocodile motif in Tambunum village / 63
4.5 The body emerging, devouring, and birthing:
masks in Tambunum village / 64
ix
x Illustrations
5.1 Nairobi postcard captioned “Mrican Tribe” / 70
5.2 Samburu moran with spear overlooking lowlands settlements / 7I
5.3 Warriors of the Lkurorro age-set / 76
5.4 Samburu moran burning in design on wooden midshaft
for tourist spear / 78
5.5 Samburu seIling miniature spears and shield on Bamburi Beach / 79
6.1 Michael Wolmegut, Mantua, woodcut, 1493 / 9I
6.2 Michael Wolmegut, Ferraria, woodcut, 1493 / 9I
6.3 Four American Automobile Association road maps / 93
6.4 Masks for sale at Abidjan marketplace / 94
6.5 Masks on interior wall in art storage facility, western Cote d’Ivoire / 95
7.1 “American Classics,” cover of 1993 New York Times Magazine
travel supplement / I05
7.2 Haida village of Masset, 1881 / I08
7.3 Cover of 1996 Alaska Airlines Magazine / I I4
7.4 Model totem pole carved by Alaskan Native, c. 1900,
and Alaska bumper sticker, c. 1993 / II7
7.5 Totem poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver / II8
7.6 Postcard of Alert Bay pole, c. 1910 / II9
8.1. Ravi Varma, Visnu with Consorts, calendar image, c. 1920 / I25
8.2 Artist working on calendar-size painting, Madurai / I26
8.3 K. Madhavan, Visnu with Consorts, calendar image, c. 1950 / I29
8.4 “Framing prints” for sale in shop, Madurai / I33
8.5 Lithographed images in shop seIling religious offerings, Madurai / I37
9.1 Elizabeth Hickox seated next to her baskets, 1913 / I44
9.2 Cover of 1976 Dover reprint of Alfred L. Kroeber’s 1925
Handbook of the Indians of California / I54
9.3 The Young (now Hover) collection ofKaruk baskets, 1929 / I56
9.4 Oak Bottom Jack’s wife, c. 1911-17 / I58
10.1 Nai Ganda pulling ikat ties / I65
10.2 Gundungpahu pattern / I66
10.3 Modern simarpusoran textile with gold supplementary
weft patterning / I69
10·4 Udanudan pattern / I 7 I
10.5 Grouping the to-be-ikatted warp of simarpusoran
and sibolang rasta textiles / I72
11.1 Napachie Pootoogook, Drawing of My Tent, 1982 / I79
11.2 Susie Malgokak printing a stencil / I82
11.3 Napachie Pootoogook, Untitled, 1960-65 / I87
Illustrations xi
11.4 NapachiePootoogook, Untitled (artists at co-op), 1981-82 / I88
11.5 Napachie Pootoogook, Untitled (man photographing
artist), 1981-82 / I89
12.1 Azande carved soldier / I99
12.2 Silver brooch and earrings representing
Mangbetu woman’s head / 200
12.3 Mangbetu woman, 1910 / 20I
12-4 Alexandre Iacovleff, Molende, La Mangbetu / 209
12.5 Henri Kerels, Musicienne / 2IO
13.1 “A Congress of American Indians,” 1899 / 2I6
13.2 Man from Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, c. 1904 / 2I7
13.3 ‘Julie and Jenny Nelson, Mother and Daughter.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” / 2I9
13.4 Charles P. Jordan at his store in Rosebud, South Dakota, 1912 / 226
13.5 Sarah Blue Eyes holding beaded pillow with Masonic design, c. 1900 / 227
14.1 Man’s embroidered dragon robe from China,
late nineteenth century / 230
14· 2 George Smith, The Rightful Heir / 2]I
14.3 Edward Brenan wearing dragon robe insignia, c. 1908 / 234
14-4 John Mansfield Crealock, The Red Sofa / 238
14.5. Troupe of female performers, Los Trovadores de Santa Fe, 1926 / 24I
15.1 Oglala Sioux white beaded deerskin formal / 249
xii Illustrations
15.2 Osage silk appliqued wool formal / 251
15.3 Kiowa “red sleeves” wool afternoon/tea dress / 253
15.4 Naskapi painted deerskin sports ensemble / 255
15.5 Hupa or Tolowa backless/sun-back shell-trimmed elkskin formal / 257
16.1 Tourists examining wares of Tlingit women,
Killisnoo, Alaska, c. 1900 / 270
16.2 Euro-American objects and Native American baskets
in turn-of-the-century bric-a-brac display / 272
16.3 “Yakutats: Alaska Indian Baskets” / 274
16,4 N. Winterhalter showing off his collection of Alaska
Native artifacts, 1896 / 278
17.1 Pueblo figurines probably from inventory of Aaron Gold, c. 1880 / 284
17.2 Pottery, mostly from Tesuque and Cochiti,
in Aaron Gold’s inventory, c. 1881 / 285
17.3 Aaron Gold at San Francisco Street entrance
to Gold’s Provision House, 1880 / 287
17.4 Tesuque rain god, illustrated in Indian Print Shop’s 1907 catalog / 290
17,5 Engraved illustrations in H. H. Tammen’s 1882 catalog,
Western Echoes / 296
18.1 Early postcard of Poking Fire village with costumed performers / 302
18.2 Postcard from 1950S showing first “Longhouse”
at Poking Fire village / 308
18.3 Postcard from the 1950S showing Chief Poking Fire
and family members in performance / 309
18,4 Beadwork souvenir purchased at Poking Fire village in 1991 / 311
18.5 Beadwork souvenir by Robin Delaronde, Kahnawake / 312
19.1 Aranui II with passengers disembarking at Takapoto,
Tuamotu Islands / 317
19.2 Carved bowl collected on Fatuiva by Karl von den Steinen in 1897 / 321
19.3 Club, paddle, and bowl by Edgar Tamarii for sale, Taiohae,
Nuku Hiva / 327
19.4 Recent tiki by Severin Taupotini on tohua, Hatiheu, Nuku Hiva / 329
19.5 Women showing painted tapa on Aranui II, Omoa, Fatuiva / 331
PREFACE
The origins of this volume go back to the first meeting of the coeditors at a
College Art Association conference in 1992, where Christopher Steiner presented
a paper on his research into the commoditization of contemporary
West Mrican art. Ruth Phillips, sitting in the audience, was struck by the remarkable
parallels between the Cote d’Ivoire art market in the 1990S and
her research on souvenir production by northeastern Native Americans in
the eighteenth century. The similarities of process occurring in two parts of
the world so widely separated in space and time seemed to point to the importance
of examining the commoditization of non-Western arts in broader
frameworks of colonial power relations and capitalist economics than was
usual in the literature.
The announcement of a conference on the theme “Arts and Goods,” organized
jointly by the Council for Museum Anthropology and the American
Ethnological Society, offered an ideal opportunity to pursue this subject by
bringing together an interdisciplinary group of scholars who would present
and analyze case studies of the development of commoditized arts in different
periods and places. About half of the chapters in this volume were presented
at a panel discussion entitled “Hybrid/Purebred: Art, Authenticity, and
Touristic Production in Colonial Contexts,” organized by the editors for that
conference, which was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in April 1993. The remaining
chapters were solicited after the conference in order to provide as
broad a view of the topic as possible. It may strike readers that there is a preponderance
of essays that address Native American topics. Although partly
a matter of circumstance, this balance also reflects the increasing focus of
Native Americanists interested in art and material culture on the longignored
transitional era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
This focus is, in turn, representative of work being done by scholars in other
xiii
xiv Preface
settler colonial societies, such as Australia and New Zealand. Although we
were unfortunately unable to include studies of arts from that part of the
world, we recommend that readers consider the growing literature on this
region alongside this collection.
This book is the first anthology on the broadly defined topic of “tourist”
arts since the landmark publication of Nelson Graburn’s edited volume Ethnic
and Tourist Arts: CulturalExpressions from theFourth World, published in 1976
by the University of California Press. Graburn’s book was developed, in part,
from an Advanced Seminar at the School of American Research on the topic
“Con temporary Developmen ts in Folk Art,” held in San ta Fe in April 1973-
exactly twenty years before the conference that inspired this volume. l Although
Graburn’s original seminar was relatively small in scope-in attendance
were Richard Beardsley, Paula Ben-Amos, Edmund Carpenter, Charles
Cutter, Kate Peck Kent, Yvonne Lange, Renaldo Maduro, and Lucy Turnerthe
published volume that grew out of the seminar included many of the
major scholars in art and an thropology from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Ethnic and Tourist Arts grouped its essays by region, a practice that was consistent
with the area studies approach of anthropological work during the
1970s. In contrast, we have organized the essays in this volume thematically
in order to highlight common aspects of global process and shared experiences
of colonialism and postcolonial critique. Many of the essays could fit
under more than one heading. The overlapping nature of the themes points
to the multiple representational functions of the objects and to the different
subject positions of makers and consumers elucidated in many of the essays.
This book brings together a distinguished international group of art historians
and anthropologists, who are among the leaders in current thinking
and research on the subjects of the production, circulation, and consumption
of commoditized art forms. Their essays illustrate how the study of socalled
tourist art fits into broader trends in present-day anthropology and
art history. They point to the fact that the academic investigation of these
art forms is almost as fiercely contested and controversial today as it was when
Graburn published his seminal study two decades ago.
Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds aims
to “unpack” some of the mystifications of meaning and value that surround
commoditized art forms in the contexts of the gallery and the marketplace,
the museum and the exposition, the private collection and the domestic interior.
In so doing, this volume of essays also strives to unload and, as it were,
(en) lighten some of the symbolic baggage that such art forms carry with them
in their rapid flow through the world economic system.
In putting together this volume we have benefited from the help and advice
of the contributors, especially Nelson Graburn, who supported the initial
Preface xv
idea for the panel and whose scholarship and teaching have facilitated all
work in this area. We would also like to thank Susan Bean for her role in organizing
the “Arts and Goods” conference and for her critical insight at various
stages of our project. Monica McCormick enthusiastically welcomed the
manuscript, and she and Sue Heinemann oversaw the book’s publication at
the University of California Press. We also wish to thank the four anonymous
readers for the Press, whose feedback was instrumental in helping us refine
the structure of the book. Finally, we are especially grateful to the Getty Research
Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities for logistical support
during the last stages of editing and production and, in particular, to
staffphotographersJobe Benjamin and John Kiffe for their exquisite work.
Last-minute photographic work was provided graciously by Michael BrandonJones
of the School of World Art Studies and Museology at the University of
East Anglia. Final bibliographic research and cross-checking could not have
been accomplished without access to the comprehensive collections of the
Robert Sainsbury Library at the University of East Anglia; and we are especially
grateful to Pat Hewitt and Asia Gaskell for their kind assistance there.
Ruth B. Phillips
Vancouver, British Columbia
Christopher B. Steiner
New London, Connecticut
Introductory Remarks
1
Art, Authenticity, and the Baggage
of Cultural Encounter
Ruth B. Phillips and Christopher B. Steiner
Whereas in the Western ideal the artist is a fiercely independent, even rebellious, creator
of art for art’s sake, the African artist aims to please his public. This does not
make all African artists crassly commercia~ although that epithet can be justly applied
to those who turn out knick-knacks for the tourist trade.
“AFRICAN ART BLACK MAGIC,” ECONOMIST, DECEMBER 24, 1994
Throughout history, the evidence of objects has been central to the telling
of cross-cultural encounters with distant worlds or remote Others. The materiality
and physical presence of the object make it a uniquely persuasive
witness to the existence of realities outside the compass of an individual’s or
a community’s experience. The possession of an exotic object offers, too, an
imagined access to a world of difference, often constituted as an enhancement
of the new owner’s knowledge, power, or wealth. Depending on the
circumstances of their acquisition, such objects may evoke curiosity, awe, fear,
admiration, contempt, or a combination of these responses. The exotic object
may variously be labeled trophy or talisman, relic or specimen, rarity or
trade sample, souvenir or kitsch, art or craft.
For the past century or so, the objects of cultural Others have been appropriated
primarily into two of these categories: the artifact or ethnographic
specimen and the work of art. They have, that is, been fitted into the scholarly
domains defined in the late nineteenth century when anthropology and
art history were formally established as academic disciplines. As a construction,
however, this binary pair has almost always been unstable, for both classifications
masked what had, by the late eighteenth century, become one of
the most important features of objects: their operation as commodities circulating
in the discursive space of an emergent capitalist economy. Although
the growth of a consumer commodity culture in Europe and North America
has undoubtedly been one of the most important organizing forces of
social and economic life during the past two centuries, there has been a surprising
silence about processes of commoditization in standard art histories
and ethnographies.l Scholars whose theories privileged this new reality3
4 RUTH PHILLIPS AND CHRISTOPHER STEINER
from Marx to Veblen, Baudrillard, and Bourdieu-were, until quite recently,
marginalized within orthodox art history and anthropology.
The inscription of Western modes of commodity production has been one
of the most important aspects of the global extension of Western colonial
power. Moreover, the role of this process in transforming indigenous constructions
of the object has intensified rather than diminished in many parts
of the world since the formal demise of colonial rule. This volume explores
instances of this inscription, together with other equally significant processes
of mediation and negotiation engaged in by the inhabitants of colonial and
postcolonial worlds. In every case, important consequences have flowed from
innovations in the design, production, and marketing of objects, not only
to those who consumed them but also to those who produced them. The
makers of objects have frequently manipulated commodity production in
order to serve economic needs as well as new demands for self-representation
and self-identification made urgent by the establishment of colonial
hegemonies.
The studies in this book range broadly both geographically and historically.
The comparative perspective they offer reveals repeating patterns of
imperialist encounter and capitalist exchange, as well as specific cultural
and historical factors that give local productions their unique forms. Although
the objects under discussion originated in such diverse times and
places as mandarin China circa 1850, the American Plains circa 1880, and
Kenya circa 1994, they are all equally difficult to contain within the binary
schema of art and artifact. In some instances, where the fact of commoditization
could be hidden, the objects have been accorded a place in one or
the other category. In others, where their commoditized nature has been
all too evident, they have most often fallen into the ontological abyss of the
inauthentic, the fake, or the crassly commercial. A particularly dense aura
of inauthenticity surrounds objects produced for the souvenir and tourist
trades because they are most obviously located at the intersection of the
discourses of art, artifact, and commodity. Many of the essays in this collection
focus on “tourist arts” and offer particularly concentrated examples
of the clash and resolution of culturally different ideas about the nature of
authenticity.
Unpacking Culture is, in many ways, a successor to the groundbreaking anthology
edited two decades ago by Nelson H. H. Graburn, Ethnic and Tourist
Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World (1976). That volume was the
first major publication to pay serious scholarly attention to the art commodities
of marginalized and colonized peoples and to recognize their importance
in the touristic production of ethnicity. In his introduction Graburn
established a model that set the terms for the discussion of these arts. For
the present volume, Graburn has provided a concluding essay, which discusses
trends in the study of tourist art during the intervening years and the
ART, AUTHENTICITY, AND BAGGAGE 5
relationship of the individual essays in this volume to the current field of
study.
Scholars today also build on recent discussions of primitivism and of the
representation of non-Western arts, subjects that have achieved a new
prominence in postcolonial art history and anthropology. For example,
Arthur Danto et al. (1988), Sally Price (1989), Marianna Torgovnick (1990),
Susan Hiller (1991), Thomas McEvilley (1992), Michael Hall and Eugene
Metcalf (1994), Elazar Barkan and Ronald Bush (1995), George Marcus and
Fred Myers (1995), and Deborah Root (1996) have investigated the appropriation
of non-Western artists into Western aesthetic discourses.
Graburn (1976a, 1984), BennettaJules-Rosette (1984), and more recently
James Clifford (1985, 1988, 1997), Suzanne Blier (1989), Sidney Kasfir
(1992), Shelly Errington (1994a), Barbara Babcock (1995), and Marta Weigle
and Barbara Babcock (1996) have examined the circulation of objects
among categories of scientific specimen, art, souvenir, and others. Arjun
Appadurai (1986b) and Igor Kopytoff (1986) examine anthropological conceptualizations
of commoditized exchange, and Nicholas Thomas (1991)
and Ruth Phillips (1998) scrutinize specific historical negotiations of commoditization
and art in the western Pacific and northeastern North America,
respectively. Steiner’s study of the contemporary West Mrican art market
(1994) focuses most closely on the mediation of knowledge that accompanies
twentieth-century manifestations of art and artifact commerce, a complex
network of cultural transactions similar to those addressed by many of
the essays in this book.
Much of the literature on the reception of non-Western arts takes the dualistic
art! artifact distinction as a given and focuses on its ambiguities and
inadequacies. Confining the problem within these parameters, however, puts
us in danger of validating the very terms that require deconstruction (see
Faris 1988). Similar difficulties were articulated in the 1980s by Rozsika
Parker and Griselda Pollock (1981) in relation to the feminist revision of
standard art-historical discourse. They argued for the deconstruction of the
conventional classification of art into major and minor genres (“fine” and
“applied” arts) because those hierarchies have devalued women’s art. Like
Parker and Pollock, we do not underestimate the difficulty inherent in challenging
the categories with which scholars have been trained to think, but
we concur that this process is crucial to the “radical reform” of the disciplines
that is now under way. 2
In the remainder of this introduction, we outline the historiographical
context that has given rise to problematic aspects of contemporary Western
practices of representation and evaluation of non-Western arts particularly
pertinent to the essays in this book. We examine the formation of three parallel
discourses about objects, formalized during the second half of the nineteenth
century, which continue to inform the thinking of both scholars and
6 RUTH PHILLIPS AND CHRISTOPHER STEINER
consumers about these arts. These three discourses arose from (1) the arthistorical
classification system of fine and applied arts, (2) anthropological
theories of the evolution and origins of art, and (3) Victorian responses to
the industrial production and commoditization of art. We aim, in particular,
to add to the dichotomy of art and artifact a third, pivotal category, the
commodity, and, further, to discuss how some aspects of the discourses surrounding
all three were complementary and mutually reinforcing while others
were intersecting, contingent, and contradictory. In the last section of
this introduction we demonstrate the continuing operation of these paradigms,
together with their contradictions, by examining the Western context
into which most global art commodities are absorbed and which therefore
can be said to provide their primary raison d’etre, the interior decoration
of the “modern” home.
FOLDING NON-WESTERN OBJECTS INTO WESTERN ART HISTORY
Despite the mythology of “discovery” that surrounds the promotion of nonWestern
art by early-twentieth-century modernist artists, this encounter is
only the latest in a succession of appropriations of non-Western objects into
the Western art and culture system. By 1907 the ground had been well prepared
by half a century of theoretical work by Victorian art theorists and anthropologists
(see Goldwater 1967;jonaitis 1995). The growth of the two bodies
of theory generated by these scholars was, furthermore, closely entwined.
Anthropologists and art theorists thought with each other’s categories,
swapping between them particular concepts of the “primitive” and exchanging
standard typologies of media and genre.
The standard Western system of art classification has its origins in the sixteenth
century in the emergence of the concept of the artist as an autonomous
creator, but its intellectual armature was provided three centuries
later by the new discipline of art history in texts written by a group of Germanic
scholars whom Michael Podro (1982) has termed the “critical historians
of art.” As he has written, these scholars grounded their work in “the
Kantian opposition between human freedom and the constraints imposed
by the material world” (xxi). Human beings, according to Kant, are fettered
by their physical dependency on Nature, but are free in their exercise of Reason.
“The role of art,” Podro summarizes, ”was seen as overcoming our ordinary
relations to the world.” Within the realm of the aesthetic, therefore,
the highest forms are those that are most free-“art for art’s sake “-and the
lowest are those that are the most utilitarian. The defining force of the concept
of fine art as free creation was further supported in the 1930S by the
Idealist aesthetics of Collingwood and has remained relatively undisturbed
since then in mainstream art history.3
The incorporation of non-Western objects into the disciplinary fold of
ART, AUTHENTICITY, AND BAGGAGE 7
art history that began around the middle of the twentieth century was a liberal
gesture of inclusion typical of its era. Formal recognition was extended,
like the political sovereignty granted to a newly independent colony, but
the infrastructure of Western knowledge formations remained firmly in
place. To be represented as “art,” in other words, the aesthetic objects of
non-Western peoples had to be transposed into the Western system of classification
of fine and applied art.4 Feminist and Marxist art historians have
revealed how this system reinforces hierarchies of gender and class. Its hegemonic
implications for race have, however, been less clearly set out, in large
part because the highly selective promotion of non-Western art by modernist
artists has constructed the illusion that a universalist inclusiveness has been
achieved.
The worldwide distortion of indigenous systems for attributing value to
objects through the modernist inscription of a discourse of “primitive art”
is particularly well illustrated by the example of Native American arts. The
visual aesthetic traditions of the majority of these peoples are a particularly
bad “fit” with the Western classification system, for Western hierarchies of
media, genre, and conditions of production rarely match those that have
historically operated within Native American communities. In order to identify
a corpus of objects that could be identified as fine art-that is, sculpture
(monumental, if possible) and graphic depiction (painted, if possible)-
scholars have often privileged objects oflesser status within their producing
communities, arbitrarily promoting some regions of the continent over others
and ignoring the indigenous systems of value and meaning attached to
objects.5
ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORIES OF THE ORIGINS OF ART
The nineteenth-century critical historians of art also grounded their work
in a Hegelian notion of progress in which the increased freedom of the artist
and the greater incidence of fine art become signs of advanced civilization.
The idea of progress in history closely parallels the belief in the historical
evolution of human material cultures formalized during the second half of
the nineteenth century by early European anthropologists such as Semper,
Stolpe, Grosse, Haddon, and Balfour. These men saw in the “primitive” peoples
of the European empires a great laboratory for the investigation of human
cultural evolution.6 Art assumed prominence within their larger project
precisely because it constituted, for Westerners, the ultimate measure of
human achievement. The presence or absence of “true art,” defined as free
creation unfettered by functional requirements, could be used as a kind of
litmus test of the level of civilization a group of people had supposedly
achieved. 7
Although they debated the specifics of historical patterns of evolution,
8 RUTH PHILLIPS AND CHRISTOPHER STEINER
the early anthropologists all assumed both the universal validity of the Kantian
equation of progress, freedom, and art and the Western scheme for classifying
and evaluating art. In addition to adducing the macro-categories of
fine and applied arts, they often did further violence to their subject matter
by categorizing it by material-textiles, ceramics, jewelry, etc. These assumptions
built into their arguments a teleological fallacy that reproduced
Victorian and imperialist hierarchies of race and gender and ultimately
doomed to failure the Victorian project of investigating the origins of art.
The evidence of this is contained in a number of contradictions within cultural
evolutionist texts. The arts of hunter -gatherer groups like the Eskimos
and the Australian Aborigines, for example, became the focus of study because
these peoples were perceived to live in an extreme state of dependence
on nature. Because the “primitiveness” of their arts was taken as a given, Victorian
anthropologists focused almost exclusively on the “inferior” category
of “ornament” and often willfully blinded themselves to the existence of objects
that could have fit their fine art category.
The cultural evolutionists also identified the sculpted or graphic images
on weapons, tools, fabrics, and the human body as applied art because they
were imagined to serve utilitarian purposes and were therefore insufficiently
autonomous to be regarded as “purely aesthetic” or as fine art objects. Grosse,
for instance, asserted in 1897 that apparently abstract geometric designs on
tools or weapons could be found to be stylized representations of animals
or humans made for magical or religious purposes. “Figures constructed with
entire freedom nowhere play any important part in ornamentation” (1928:
116). The inconsistency that arises here is that, while in Western art the symbolic
was identified with fine art and the natural and imitative with decorative
art, the reverse became true for “primitive” art.
A spate of publications on the evolution of art appeared during the 1890s,
and this body of theory continued to inform the work of anthropologists
throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Frank Speck, for example,
in what has become a classic text on eastern Cree ritual art was in 1935 still
using dialectically opposed categories of the “purely aesthetic” and the “symbolic,”
the commercial and the “magical” (197T 127). Within only a decade
of the earlier publications, however, the modernist revolution in European
art had begun to displace this body of theory and to refocus the discourse of
“primitive” art. In sharp contrast to the emphasis the anthropologists placed
on ornamentation, the modernist artists appropriated a different set of nonWestern
objects, those that most closely fit the Western fine art categories of
sculpture and painting. They adopted a form of tunnel vision every bit as narrow
as that of the cultural evolutionists, though differently directed. Their
exclusion of textiles, basketry, and beadwork, of the stylistically naturalistic,
and of anything seen as artistically “hybrid” meant that the most important
aesthetic traditions of many peoples were denied the status of fine art.
ART, AUTHENTICITY, AND BAGGAGE 9
COMMODlTIZATION AND THE HYBRID
The different kinds of objects that interested ethnologists and modern artists
stimulated different kinds of demand. Markets for art and artifact coexisted,
furthermore, with a souvenir trade that had greatly expanded in response
to the rapid growth of tourism during the Victorian era. During this period,
too, the interactive process between producer and consumer intensified, resulting
not only in greatly increased replications of “traditional” objects but
also in the production of many innovative hybrid art forms. The interactive
process between producer and consumer, which began almost everywhere
as soon as contact with the West took place, entered a new phase in the Victorian
era, during which far greater quantities and varieties of objects were
produced by efficiently organized cottage industries. These new art forms,
typified, for example, by the wares Woodlands Indians made to sell at Niagara
Falls, signal the entry of colonized peoples into industrial-age consumerism,
an economic integration forced on many by the destruction of
their former modes of subsistence and on others by the introduction into
traditional material culture both oflabor-saving manufactured materials and
of attractive new mass-produced Western commodities that could only be
acquired with cash.
Neither the speed and acuity with which indigenous artists responded to
changes in taste and market nor the dialogic nature of their creative activity
has been adequately recognized. Rather, until recently, both art historians
and anthropologists have resoundingly rejected most commoditized objects
as spurious on two grounds: (1) stylistic hybridity, which conflicts with
essentialist notions of the relationship between style and culture, and (2)
their production for an external market, which conflicts with widespread
ideas of authenticity. Although both of these reasons for rejection arise directly
from the nineteenth-century philosophical foundations of art-historical
and anthropological thinking, they are inconsistent with key aspects of
these same intellectual traditions.
Objections to stylistic hybridity, for example, diverge in several ways from
the general positions many theorists held on this subject. First, the negative
view of stylistic mixing conflicts with the general cultural evolutionist principle
that contact and cross-fertilization were important, if not essential, to
the advancement of cultures. In Alfred Haddon’s 1902 treatise Evolution in
Art, for example, the author drew on a biological metaphor to conclude that
“the isolation of a people and uniformity in their existence will tend to stagnation
in art, and … intercourse with other peoples, whether by trade, war
or migration, serves as a stimulus to artistic expression” (317).
Yet this principle is not followed in the judgments routinely made of specific
bodies of material culture. In 1896, for example, Stolpe lamented the
“difficulty” of working with one Native American collection, because “It so
IO RUTH PHILLIPS AND CHRISTOPHER STEINER
often bears obvious traces of the influence of the white man’s industry. The
furniture nails driven into clubs or pipe-stems, the garniture of glass beads
on all sorts of articles, prove that the style is no longer genuine, but spoiled
by European importations” (192 7: 93).
He regarded the widespread use of floral motifs as particularly “suspicious,”
commenting that “in all these plant designs I see nothing but the debasing
influence of a vicious style of drawing on the white man’s gaudy
bartered wares” (94). As this statement makes clear, one reason for the rejection
of stylistic hybrids was pragmatic: they greatly complicated the scholarly
project of reconstructing evolutionary histories of “primitive” art. Another,
more profound, reason had to do with the Victorian biological
discourse of race, in which hybridity was defined as degenerative and weakening
of a racial “stock” (Young 1995).
Accusations of inauthenticity were also based on the assertion that commodities
were produced for external markets and not used by the producers
themselves. This allegation ignored plain facts. Colonized peoples all over
the world often did wear the same kinds of garments and ornaments they
sold as souvenirs, and many forms of aesthetic expression within indigenous
communities were profoundly transformed by their makers’ intensified involvement
in market production. In tying the definition of authenticity for
non-Western arts to these arts’ putative preindustrial quality, scholarly practice
also denied art makers their place in modernity. A particular irony of
the authenticity paradigm, finally, is revealed by the mounting evidence that
many of the objects purchased both as ethnological specimens and as art objects
during the heyday of collecting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries were, in fact, commercially produced replicas, although curators
and collectors were frequently either unaware of this fact or chose to
suppress it (R. Phillips 1995). This is equally true of masks and carvings collected
during the early colonial period in Mrica (Schildkrout and Keim 1990)
and from the Canadian Northwest Coast; many Eskimo toolkits now in museums
were made for the market (Lee, this volume), as were many forms of
Plains Indian weaponry and beadwork (Bol, this volume).
Objects that incorporated Western materials, styles, and forms failed, however,
to satisfY the longing among Western consumers for the lost authenticity
of the local and handmade that accompanied industrialization. Finally,
rejection on the grounds of hybrid and acculturated elements contradicted
widely held positions on progress. The same scholars and collectors who complained
about inauthenticity subscribed to one of the basic rationales for the
global imposition of colonial rule: that the desired outcomes of the “civilizing”
of indigenous peoples would be their own increased “industriousness,”
as evidenced by their more efficient production of “manufactures,” together
with the transformation of these populations into consumers of Western manufactured
goods.
ART, AUTHENTICITY, AND BAGGAGE I I
Ambivalence about commoditized forms of “primitive” art was part of a
much wider discomfort with industrial production in Victorian society. This
unease found its most concentrated expression in the reactions of intellectuals
to the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. Popularly known as the Crystal
Palace, the Great Exhibition was based, as Thomas Richards has written,
on the idea that “all human life and cultural endeavor could be fully represented
by exhibiting manufactured articles” (1990: 17). The development
of this system brought two schema for ordering things into uneasy relation:
the old art hierarchy and a newer hierarchy based on commodity type. As
Richards notes, Prince Albert initially urged the adoption of a traditional
categorization of the things of the world into four divisions: raw materials,
machinery and mechanical inventions, manufactures, and sculpture and plastic
art. Through the efforts of the exhibition’s planning commission, however,
these were later supplemented by twenty-nine additional categories,
“which cross cut the others, like a department store,” and “by which articles
of a similar kind from every part of the world could be disposed in juxta-position”
(Richards 1990: 32). In other words, the old hierarchy was placed side
by side with the essentially democratizing, leveling representation produced
by capitalist production. Objects from all parts of the world were presented
in these displays as manufactures and commodities and were eagerly purchased
by the hordes of exhibition visitors. “In effect, though hardly by intention,”
notes Richards, “the Crystal Palace advanced a prescient vision of
the evolutionary development of commodities” (27). Many of the wares exhibited
at this and other exhibitions form today the core of ethnological and
art museum collections. Science here follows the model of commerce rather
than the reverse, as is often supposed; the universalizing typology used in
the 1851 exhibition predated by several decades its employment in museum
displays such as that installed at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the end of the
nineteenth century (Chapman 1985).8
The enthusiastic consumer response to the exotic commodities at the
Crystal Palace-most of which were stylistic hybrids-was typical of all such
exhibitions and contrasted with the rejection of these same objects by the
intellectual establishment (Richards 1990: 32-33).9 Indeed, the Great Exhibition
and its successors revealed to contemporary intellectuals the
disjunctions that were emerging between the old elitist hierarchical
schematization of art, with its reliance on rarity and the handmade, and
the democratization of art made possible by new forms of industrial production.
The exhibition acted as the catalyst for several important theoretical
formulations.
It is not coincidental, for example, that the nineteenth-century theorist
Gottfried Semper wrote major treatises on Western architectural and ornamental
style as well as on the origins of art. Both interests were stimulated
in important ways by the Great Exhibition, for which he was com-
I2 RUTH PHILLIPS AND CHRISTOPHER STEINER
missioned to design displays for the products of four different countries.lo
His major early treatise of 1852, Science, Industry, and Art: Proposals for the
Development of a National Taste in Art at the Closing of the London Industrial Exhibition,
was directly stimulated by this experience. In this rich text we can
trace the great debates of the era as Semper struggled to rationalize his own
seemingly contradictory responses. He acknowledged his attraction to
many of the commercial products of non-European nations, although he
disdained commercial motivations for the production of art; he respected
the high level of craftsmanship of “barbaric” peoples in comparison to that
displayed by the new Western industrial products, although he remained
convinced of the essential superiority of Western aesthetic achievement; he
was led, ultimately, to consider Western industrial and exotic commercial
forms of production as equally inferior. He wrote, for example, “A work of
art destined for the marketplace cannot have this relevance, far less than an industrial
object can, for the latter’s artistic relevance is supported at least by the use for
which it is expected to have. The former, however; exists for itself alone, and is always
distasteful when it betrays the purpose of pleasing or seducing a buyer”
(Semper 1989: 143).
Semper’s was by no means a lone voice. The Great Exhibition also inspired
William Morris and his colleagues to attempt to revalidate the decorative arts
through a revival of medieval forms of handicraft. Ultimately, however, the
effort to reconcile the fundamental contradictions failed. The emerging disjunctions
between the cultural arrogance of art connoisseurship and the
leveling of art appreciation that flowed from new technologies for mechanical
reproduction could not, in the end, be reconciled. Consumers were
motivated both by a genuine admiration for the technical expertise and aesthetic
sensibility of non-Western artists and, like the anthropologists, by a romantic
and nostalgic desire for the “primitive” induced by the experience
of modernization.
It is important to emphasize that the sentimental quest for simplicity, with
its attendant, but ambivalent, rejection of modernity, was neither new in the
Victorian era, nor limited to the realms of art and visual culture. Suspicion
of mass manufacturing and mass marketing and the desire to retrieve the
authenticity belonging to the rare and the singular lost through the new
modes of production both go back to the eighteenth century, and they have
permeated many other domains of consumption from then until now. A
telling eighteenth-century example having to do with cuisine is provided by
Brillat-Savarin’s famous disdain for mechanically ground coffee. As Roland
Barthes comments, the great gastronome’s objections probably arose more
from semiotic and epistemological considerations than from a truly palatable
discrimination: “The grinder works mechanically … its produce is a
kind of dust-fine, dry, impersonal. By contrast, there is an art in wielding
the pestle. Bodily skills are involved …. The choice between pounding and
ART, AUTHENTICITY, AND BAGGAGE I3
grinding is thus a choice between two different views of human condition
and between metaphysical judgments lying just beneath the surface of the
question” (quoted in M. Douglas and Isherwood 1979: 73-74).
Brillat-Savarin’s sentimental preference for handground coffee beans
parallels the enthusiasm of consumers for handmade objects; both are located
at the intersection of a scholarly discourse of authenticity and an emerging
discourse on the canons of “good” or “refined” taste (see Bourdieu 1984).
Both tapped into a deep current of sentimental nostalgia for the loss of the
handmade and the unique. If industrially produced objects could not satisfy
these yearnings, recourse to invented notions of the “primitive” and the
preindustrial would have to.
More often than not, these needs were displaced onto a special category
of exotica, tourist art, which was constructed not just to represent the idea
of the handmade, but also to display iconographic motifs and forms that signified
“old” ways oflife imagined as simpler and more satisfying. In this sense,
Victorian ambivalence toward the commoditization of folk or non-Western
art directly paralleled a discourse of tourism and anti-tourism identified by
James Buzard (1993) as a major theme in nineteenth-century literature.
“Anti-tourism,” as defined by Buzard, corresponds almost exactly to the discourse
of authenticity that cleaved the community of consumers of art commodities
into two opposed camps of fine art cognoscenti and populist collectors
of tourist art. The irony here, however, is that the possibility of evading
commoditization was as illusory as the efforts of Victorian intellectuals to
identify themselves as “travelers” rather than “tourists.”
EMBEDDED CONTRADICTIONS
As we have seen, the exclusion from the canons of art and science of the stylistically
hybrid and openly commoditized forms adopted by many commercial
and souvenir productions resulted from the same discursive matrix.
Moreover, notions of the essential value and uniqueness of “art” and of the
scientific interest of the “artifact” were givens that became part of the inscription
of colonialism. Despite contemporary deconstructions of these
terms, they remain operational concepts that outsider-producers have to negotiate
together with the contradictions embedded in essentialist and evolutionist
approaches to style and authenticity. Two further examples can be
added to those already mentioned. Stolpe’s aversion to hybrids and souvenir
art, typical of his influential scholarly generation, led him to make some gross
errors of fact. He praised, for example, the sculptural qualities of Haida
argillite carving, an art form invented during the first half of the nineteenth
century exclusively for trade to Westerners, under the mistaken impression
that it was an ancient art form (1927: 114-15). At the same time, he rejected
out of hand the majority of Plains and Woodlands museum objects (which
AP Photo/Matt York
rban Outfitters, the retail mecca for once and future hipsters, recently
scrubbed its website of all references to “Navajo.” What was once the
“Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask” is now the “Printed Fabric Wrapped
Flask”; the “Navajo Hipster Panty” is now the “Printed Hipster Panty”; and so on.
The items are still available for purchase, but they’ve all been renamed.
The move comes on the heels of a
Web-based campaign against the
retailer’s marketing practices and
official requests from the Navajo
Nation Department of Justice. In June,
the Navajo Nation sent a ceaseand-desist
letter to Urban Outfitters
CEO Glen Senk, citing the company’s
numerous registered trademarks for
“Navajo” on clothing, footwear,
household products, textiles, and
online retail sales. This was followed
by an open letter at the Racialicious
blog by Sasha Houston Brown, a
member of the Santee Sioux Nation,
who assailed Urban Outfitters’ “mass
marketed collection of distasteful and
racially demeaning apparel and
MINH-HA PHAM NOVEMBER 3, 2011
What’s in a Name?
Urban Outfitters removes the word “Navajo” from its product line,
but the cultural poaching is the same.
U
What’s in a Name? http://prospect.org/article/whats-name-3
1 of 4 15-07-17 12:03 PM
Urban Outfitters’ former “Navajo” hipster panty. décor.” She also pointed out that the
company’s actions were in fact illegal
under the 1990 Federal Indian Arts
and Crafts Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act, which prohibits selling
goods under the pretense that they are made by Native Americans.
Ed Looram, the company’s spokesperson, initially insisted that the retailer was
merely following a fashion trend and had “no plans to modify or discontinue
any of these products.” So when Urban Outfitters finally removed “Navajo” from
the names of their products in mid-October, many viewed it as a legal, cultural,
and moral victory for the Navajo Nation—including Brown, the Navajo Nation
Department of Justice, and a journalist from Indian Country Media network who
playfully suggested that “the simple Printed Hipster Panty might also be called
the Righteous Undergarment of Cultural Victory.” But the solution leaves me
wondering: What does deleting the word “Navajo” from the Urban Outfitters
website actually achieve?
In removing the Navajo name from its products, Urban Outfitters has technically
complied with trademark law, but it hasn’t addressed the larger problem of
cultural appropriation. Fashion institutions and individuals have a long history of
co-opting non-Western items and practices of dress for profit. In repackaging these
items, the relevant cultures and histories are often misrepresented. Cultural
appropriation underpins a system of consumer capitalism and racism that enables
global corporations to profit from imitation goods while native designers struggle
to earn a living. As a result, complex native cultural practices are represented as
flat stereotypes.
Imitation cultural products reinforce fashion’s social dynamics, which celebrate
cultural dress as exotic for some but reject it as backward when worn by
minorities. While purchasing say, a native headdress, may lend already-privileged
hipsters an aura of bohemianism and coolness, native people who invest
economically, emotionally, and culturally in the same garment are interpreted as
traditional and unmodern. By reducing cultural dress to a fashion statement,
What’s in a Name? http://prospect.org/article/whats-name-3
2 of 4 15-07-17 12:03 PM
appropriation removes all of the political meaning, including histories of racism
and imperialism, from cultural objects.
Intellectual-property law provides the illusion of regulating naming rights but still
allows companies to exploit minority groups. These cases should not ask who
“owns” ideas—which is difficult to determine in creative and collaborative
industries like fashion. Rather, they should seek to determine who benefits from
the use, exchange, production, and consumption of a particular cultural aesthetic.
Given the publicity this controversy has received in mainstream and alternative
media sites, Urban Outfitters consumers will be hard-pressed not to read the
Navajo name onto these popular products anyway. Fashion’s long history of
cultural poaching has made it possible to know these commodities and their
associated practices when we see them; they needn’t be named. Silk robes
embroidered with gold floral patterns or dragons are recognizably Asian.
Likewise, products bearing the bold, geometric patterns associated with and often
stereotyped as Navajo design will be visually identifiable as Navajo or at least
“native-inspired.”
The Navajo Nation’s legal victory won’t prevent Urban Outfitters and other fashion
companies like it from continuing to manufacture and sell an array of fringed and
feathered sweaters, jackets, shoes, and accessories that consumers identify as
“native” by sight if not by name. Neither has intellectual-property law’s ethical
shadings induced the company to make broader and long-term changes in its
marketing practices. For proof of this, check out the many items available in Free
People and Anthropologie (Urban Outfitters’ other retail stores) that are still
described as “Navajo.”
You may also like:
What’s in a Name? http://prospect.org/article/whats-name-3
3 of 4 15-07-17 12:03 PM
A Jew of No
Religion
Batman the
Gentrifier
A Quick-Step
Forward
Will Latinos Help
Re-Elect Obama?
Walking While
Black
© 2015 by The American Prospect
What’s in a Name? http://prospect.org/article/whats-name-3
4 of 4 15-07-17 12:03 PM

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