Art as Politics

Art as Politics: Re-Crafting Identities, Tourism, and Power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia

Copyright Date: 2006
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    Art as Politics
    Book Description:

    Art as Politics explores the intersection of art, identity politics, and tourism in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Based on long-term ethnographic research from the 1980s to the present, the book offers a nuanced portrayal of the Sa’dan Toraja, a predominantly Christian minority group in the world’s most populous Muslim country. Celebrated in anthropological and tourism literatures for their spectacular traditional houses, sculpted effigies of the dead, and pageantry-filled funeral rituals, the Toraja have entered an era of accelerated engagement with the global economy marked by on-going struggles over identity, religion, and social relations. In her engaging account, Kathleen Adams chronicles how various Toraja individuals and groups have drawn upon artistically-embellished "traditional" objects—as well as monumental displays, museums, UNESCO ideas about "word heritage," and the World Wide Web—to shore up or realign aspects of a cultural heritage perceived to be under threat. She also considers how outsiders—be they tourists, art collectors, members of rival ethnic groups, or government officials—have appropriated and reframed Toraja art objects for their own purposes. Her account illustrates how art can serve as a catalyst in identity politics, especially in the context of tourism and social upheaval. Ultimately, this insightful work prompts readers to rethink persistent and pernicious popular assumptions—that tourism invariably brings a loss of agency to local communities or that tourist art is a compromised form of expression. Art as Politics promises to be a favorite with students and scholars of anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, ethnic relations, art, and Asian studies.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6148-3
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XI)
  4. 1 Carvings, Christianity, and CHiPs
    (pp. 1-34)

    Some researchers are lured by distant, palm-fringed island beach communities; others are enticed by bustling urban centers; but in my case it was the high tropical mountains of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, homeland of an ethnic group known as the Sa’dan Toraja.¹ (See Map 1.) Ever since my first undergraduate literary encounters with Sa’dan Toraja “death cults” and ornately carved Toraja houses, I had been captivated by this Christian enclave ensconced in a predominantly Muslim nation. I soon discovered that I was not the only one intrigued by the Sa’dan Toraja, for after only a cursory review of the anthropological literature...

  5. 2 Competing Toraja Images of Identity
    (pp. 35-71)

    My introduction to the politically charged nature of identity imagery in Tana Toraja began on my third day in Rantepao. I was hunting for a map of the area, and several young aspiring Toraja guides steered me in the direction of a small general store near the market. I wandered into the dimly lit shop, past the dusty glass cases crammed with Toraja pop music cassette tapes, knock-off designer watches, pocket knives, lipstick, and hair barrettes, to a counter at the back of the shop, where the portly Chinese shop owner sat conversing with a friend. The shop owner turned...

  6. 3 The Carved Tongkonan
    (pp. 73-109)

    A few weeks after settling in at Ne’ Duma’s family home, I set out to find a carving mentor. My initial prospect was Ne’ Lindo, a charismatic, fine-featured carver in his fifties, with closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair, thick glasses, and twinkling eyes. Ne’ Lindo resided with his family in Ke’te’ Kesu’ and ran a small but lucrative carving kiosk not far from Indo’ Rampo’s souvenir stall in the “traditional village.” For the busloads of tourists who routinely toured Ke’te’ Kesu’ in the 1980s and 1990s, Ne’ Lindo epitomized the master craftsman. Born to a traditional house carver in the mid-1930s,...

  7. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  8. 4 Mortuary Effigies and Identity Politics
    (pp. 111-138)

    In the late 1920s a young Frenchwoman named Titayna set off on an adventure to the Borneo and Sulawesi hinterlands. Her travels were later chronicled in the sensationally titled book:A Woman in the Land of the Headhunters (Une femme chez les chausseurs de têtes).Describing her horseback arrival in the Sa’dan Toraja region, Titayna wrote:

    We climb, climb, without cease. In front of us a sheer wall blocks the valley . . . its vertical surfaces attainable only by the birds of prey, whose shadows trace circles on the valley below. Nevertheless, just in the center, dizzily separated from...

  9. 5 Ceremonials, Monumental Displays, and Museumification
    (pp. 139-166)

    It was early evening in August 1995, on my second night back in the village, and I was sitting with my adopted Toraja family absently watching the national television station (TVRI) that was broadcasting around the clock in celebration of Indonesia’s fiftieth anniversary of independence. The flickering TV screen served as a backdrop to the family’s assorted activities—the younger children worked on their Indonesian citizenship class homework, while the older women folded the laundry and began preparing dinner. Across the room two local teens counted the day’s revenues from the now-booming tourist visits, and Lolo, a Ke’te’ Kesu’ carver,...

  10. 6 Toraja Icons on the National and Transnational Stage
    (pp. 167-192)

    This chapter pursues a number of themes pertaining to cultural pastiches, cultural appropriation, art, and the negotiation of Toraja identity and values in ever-widening spheres. Central here is the issue of how, in the context of growing interethnic, interreligious, and economic turmoil, Torajas are struggling to project their identity and viewpoints beyond the local onto the national and global stages. This Toraja struggle for self-assertion and symbolic preeminence has to do not only with a desire for respect and glory, but also with fears that, as tourism becomes jeopardized in an era of uncertainty, so do the livelihoods of Toraja...

  11. 7 Carving New Conceptions of Community in an Era of Religious and Ethnic Violence
    (pp. 193-208)

    On a brisk morning in 1997, some time after the anti-Chinese rioting, a convoy of trucks rumbled into Rantepao. The trucks screeched to a halt at the town’s dusty main intersection, where villagers awaited public transport to the buffalo market and unemployed Toraja guides lingered alongside snoozing Makassaresebecakdrivers. The ordinariness of the morning was abruptly shattered, as fierce-looking “young men in sturdy shoes”¹ poured out of the trucks in front of the Chinese-owned businesses lining the main street. The Toraja souvenir vendors in adjacent shops, bank tellers at the imposing People’s Bank of Indonesia, and the cluster of...

  12. 8 From Toraja Heritage to World Heritage?
    (pp. 209-216)

    Throughout this book I have illustrated how art can serve as an active ingredient in identity politics. In this regard this book contributes to a growing literature that critiques traditional perspectives on art and material creations as passive mirrors of the social relations in the creator culture. Through analyzing specific local struggles concerning the meaning of artistically embellished art objects such as carved ancestral houses and effigies of the dead, I have tried to develop a more vibrant vision of the arts as a particularly fruitful mode for recrafting local identities in times of change. I have argued that art,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 217-246)
    (pp. 247-252)
    (pp. 253-274)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 275-286)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-292)