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Unpacking Culture

Unpacking Culture: Art and Commodity in Colonial and Postcolonial Worlds

Ruth B. Phillips
Christopher B. Steiner
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 435
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  • Book Info
    Unpacking Culture
    Book Description:

    Tourist art production is a global phenomenon and is increasingly recognized as an important and authentic expression of indigenous visual traditions. These thoughtful, engaging essays provide a comparative perspective on the history, character, and impact of tourist art in colonized societies in three areas of the world: Africa, Oceania, and North America. Ranging broadly historically and geographically,Unpacking Cultureis the first collection to bring together substantial case studies on this topic from around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-91876-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Ruth B. Phillips and Christopher B. Steiner

    • 1 Art, Authenticity, and the Baggage of Cultural Encounter
      (pp. 3-19)
      Ruth B. Phillips and Christopher B. Steiner

      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...

    • 2 My Father’s Business
      (pp. 20-30)
      Frank Ettawageshik

      My name is Naakwehgeshik of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians from the northern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. My English name is Frank Ettawageshik, and I live near Harbor Springs on Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay. This area, from Little Traverse Bay north some forty miles to the Straits of Mackinac, has been known for a few hundred years by the Odawa people as Waganakising(Wagana.kising), which means “crooked top of the tree” or “the crooked tree.” The settlement, which became the town of Harbor Springs, was established in the 1820s around a Catholic mission...


    • 3 Nuns, Ladies, and the “Queen of the Huron”: Appropriating the Savage in Nineteenth-Century Huron Tourist Art
      (pp. 33-50)
      Ruth B. Phillips

      Charles Mackay’s 1859 travel book, like those of other contemporary visitors to North America, contains a description of his trip to Quebec City, the “picturesque” Montmorency Falls, and the nearby village of Lorette. Here, he tells his readers,

      resides the last scanty remnant of the once powerful tribe of the Hurons, the former lords and possessors of Canada. Paul, the chief or king of the tribe, is both the most exalted and the most respectable member of the tribe, and carries on with success, by means of the female members of his family, a trade in the usual Indian toys...

    • 4 Tourist Art as the Crafting of Identity in the Sepik River (Papua New Guinea)
      (pp. 51-66)
      Eric Kline Silverman

      For centuries, New Guinea has attracted visitors. First, from the East, came Malayan hunters in search of birds-of-paradise. Now, from the West, art dealers and tourists seek the exotic “primitive” Other, especially along the Sepik River. A more suitable place they could not have found, for New Guinea invokes primal images in the Western imagination: Hobbesian savagery, cannibalism, pagan rituals, and Rousseauesque ideals of sensuality, innocence, and beauty.

      It is this popular imagination that tends to frame Sepik River tourist art. But these meanings have little in common with indigenous experience, sociallife, and aesthetics. Focusing on the latmul people of...

    • 5 Samburu Souvenirs: Representations of a Land in Amber
      (pp. 67-84)
      Sidney Littlefield Kasfir

      This essay is about the interplay between commoditized and noncommoditized forms and the situating of cultural practice within the creative tension between representation and identity. Discussions of so-called tourist art often focus on its commodity status. While essential in locating such objects within (or “against”) an art-historical discourse whose premises lie in notions of uniqueness and authenticity, the category of commoditization tends to resist analysis of the patron (or spectator) as anything but a consumer and the artist as anything but a producer. Thinking about aesthetic objects as goods is productive for locating and contextualizing them within systems of exchange,...


    • 6 Authenticity, Repetition, and the Aesthetics of Seriality: The Work of Tourist Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
      (pp. 87-103)
      Christopher B. Steiner

      When Walter Benjamin wrote his famous essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in 1936,¹ he was grappling with two different issues relating to the changing concept of art in the industrial and post-industrial ages. The first issue, and by far the more easily comprehensible, concerns theproductionof artworks. “Authentic” art, according to Benjamin, is produced (and indeed must be produced) in the context ofthe religious cult and in response to the demands of tradition. In other words, Benjamin writes, “the unique value of the ‘authentic’ work of art has its basis in ritual, the...

    • 7 Northwest Coast Totem Poles
      (pp. 104-121)
      Aldona Jonaitis

      In 1889 the naturalist John Muir landed in Wrangell, Alaska, and described the behavior of the tourists, who were indiscriminately consuming Native culture: “There was a grand rush on shore to buy curiosities and see totem poles. The shops were jammed and mobbed, high prices being paid for shabby stuff [such as model totem poles] manufactured expressly for the tourist trade” (1979: 276). On May 16,1993, the cover of theNew York Times Magazinetravel supplement, featuring “American Classics,” depicted a line of people, each carrying a typical regional American icon: an African-American boy with a bald eagle, a white...

    • 8 Master, Machine, and Meaning: Printed Images in Twentieth-Century India
      (pp. 122-140)
      Stephen R. Inglis

      “A society becomes modern when one of its chief activities is producing and consuming images.” According to this definition, proposed by Susan Sontag (1977: 153), India is very much a modern society. The mechanically reproduced image to which Sontag refers has become indispensable to the economy, politics, and religion of India and is an integral part of both public and private spaces.

      The birth of the “age of mechanical reproduction” (Benjamin 1969b), which has made image proliferation and the entire concept of modern media possible, is relatively recent. Photography was invented more than 150 years ago, and color lithography was...


    • 9 Elizabeth Hickox and Karuk Basketry: A Case Study in Debates on Innovation and Paradigms of Authenticity
      (pp. 143-161)
      Marvin Cohodas

      This essay considers the production and reception of baskets woven for sale as curios in the early twentieth century by Elizabeth Conrad Hickox (1872-1947) of the Karuk region in northwestern California (fig. 9.1). Hickox specialized in the lidded trinket basket, a form developed for the curio trade.¹ Between 1908 and 1934 her works were purchased by Grace Nicholson, a curio dealer in Pasadena, California, who specialized in basketry. Nicholson’s records provide almost unparalleled documentation of the work of a single weaver.² Until 1926 Nicholson recorded her purchases of baskets by Hickox and others in a ledger and also photographed Hickox,...

    • 10 Threads of Tradition, Threads of Invention: Unraveling Toba Batak Women’s Expressions of Social Change
      (pp. 162-177)
      Sandra Niessen

      Europeans were latecomers to insular Southeast Asia, the nexus of ancient trade between India and the Far East. First the Portuguese, then the British and the Dutch braved the seas to obtain exotic Southeast Asian spices. Cloth figured centrally in the procurement of these Southeast Asian products, and the developments associated with the Industrial Revolution in Europe served the foreign traders well. By the nineteenth century, Europe had a hegemonic hold on the Southeast Asian markets and ancient trade infrastructures. One of the effects of this European success was the suppression of the local cloth “industry,” which was seen as...

    • 11 Drawing (upon) the Past: Negotiating Identities in Inuit Graphic Arts Production
      (pp. 178-194)
      Janet Catherine Berlo

      James Clifford, in his essay “Traveling Cultures,” muses on a classic photographic image of the anthropologist in his tent. He presents it as a trope for an old-style ethnological endeavor in which a scholar (presumably male and white) pitches his tent in the center of a village and, from that small, cloth-bound base of operations, expounds upon the culture surrounding him (1992: 96-116). Clifford goes on to discuss travel and displacement—pitching tents here and there—as late-twentieth-century cultural metaphors around the globe. He suggests that “native informants,” no longer seen simply as the oral source for the Western narrative...


    • 12 Gender and Sexuality in Mangbetu Art
      (pp. 197-213)
      Enid Schildkrout

      Mangbetu art constitutes astylewithin the “catalog” of African art forms known in the West, even though it emerged as a genre in the early colonial period as a product of the interaction between African artists and their African and European patrons. Because “authenticity” has usually been equated with “tradition”—problematic as both of those concepts are—Mangbetu art, as a genre, has been dehistoricized at the same time that it has been aestheticized. Many assumptions about the nature of the Mangbetu state, ways of honoring ancestors, and the position of women in Mangbetu society have entered the ethnographic...

    • 13 Defining Lakota Tourist Art, 1880–1915
      (pp. 214-228)
      Marsha C. Bol

      Sizable collections of Lakota Plains Indian art were amassed early in the twentieth century. They are filled with objects that refer to a traditional lifestyle—a lifestyle for which such things had ceased to be necessary long before they were collected and, in some cases, long before they were actually made. The artistic record in other Native North American regions suggests that many of these objects were produced for a new audience, a non-Native clientele. However, it is often virtually impossible to distinguish objects made for Lakota use from those made for a non-Lakota audience unless they display clear evidence...

    • 14 Studio and Soirée: Chinese Textiles in Europe and America, 1850 to the Present
      (pp. 229-242)
      Verity Wilson

      In 1935 the ladies of the Morgan Park Woman’s Club of Chicago were entertained at their spring luncheon by Mademoiselle Maria Leontine. This “international dancer,” as she billed herself, gave a program of “Ceremonial Dances of China.” The club ladies were not only delighted by the dancing but also thrilled “to see the exquisite collection of costly costumes she wore.” We learn from Maria Leontine’s publicity handout that these “costly costumes” were “magnificent,” “ancient,” and what is more, “not stage properties but authentic garments worn by Celestial ladies and men of other days.” The accompanying photographs show this beguiling performer...

    • 15 The Indian Fashion Show
      (pp. 243-264)
      Nancy J. Parezo

      “Somethingreallynew for fashion show followers is being staged tomorrow at the University Museum,” declared journalist Judy Jennings in thePhiladelphia Inquirerin 1952. “An Indian Fashion Show with a magnificent collection of authentic North American Indian women’s costumes from many tribes and periods will be modeled with commentary by Dr. Frederic H. Douglas, curator of the Department of Native Art in the Denver Art Museum” (Jennings 1952). The presentation, one of a series begun in the early 1940s, featured “the latest thing in a skin housedress, which by the simple addition of a wool shawl becomes ‘an afternoon...


    • 16 Tourism and Taste Cultures: Collecting Native Art in Alaska at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 267-281)
      Molly Lee

      The widespread exoticizing of Native peoples in Western culture has had a far-reaching influence on the substance and contours of anthropological discourse. It explains, for instance, the abundance of research into the effects of Western collecting on Native art systems relative to the scarcity of inquiries into why Westerners are attracted to Native arts in the first place (e.g., Graburn 1976; R. Phillips 1989b; Ray 1977; Wyatt 1984).

      A recent surge of interest in collecting non-Western art, however, has begun restoring this imbalance (see, e.g., Clifford 1987, 1988; Dominguez 1986; Gordon 1988; S. Jones 1986; Karp and Lavine 1991; Price...

    • 17 Tourism Is Overrated: Pueblo Pottery and the Early Curio Trade, 1880–1910
      (pp. 282-298)
      Jonathan Batkin

      In 1880 the transcontinental railroad reached New Mexico. With trains came tourists, and over the next few decades Pueblo Indian pottery changed dramatically: nontraditional vessels and figurines were made in great numbers.¹ Those facts appear to be linked in a causal relationship, and the resulting perception that tourism directly effected changes in pottery is entrenched in the literature, reinforced by images of Pueblo women selling pots to Victorian-era tourists at the Laguna Pueblo train stop (J. J. Brody 1990: 1–3; Dillingham 1992; Simmons 1979: 211).

      Although much has been written about Pueblo pottery, the early curio trade in the...


    • 18 Indian Villages and Entertainments: Setting the Stage for Tourist Souvenir Sales
      (pp. 301-315)
      Trudy Nicks

      “Beadwork sells much better in a set-up like Poking Fire than through shops where it will just sit on a shelf,” Leo Diabo remarked during an interview in the Mohawk village of Kahnawake, Quebec, in early 1991.¹ The Poking Fire “set-up” to which he referred was a tourist attraction developed by John McComber, also known as Chief Poking Fire, in the village of Kahnawake in the 1930s. Originally known as “Chief Poking Fire Totum[sic]Pole Indian Village,”McComber’s enterprise provided visitors with a highly staged representation of Indians as exotic Others (fig. 18.1). At the height of its popularity as...

    • 19 Art, Tourism, and Cultural Revival in the Marquesas Islands
      (pp. 316-334)
      Carol S. Ivory

      The Marquesas Islands form an archipelago some 750 miles northeast of Tahiti. The six inhabited islands, Nuku Hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Huka, Tahuata, Hiva Oa, and Fatuiva, are often described in terms of mystery and foreboding. Indeed, they are quite dramatic: volcanic peaks plunge directly into the sea, their sharp ridges separating deep valleys from one another. There are no coral reefs; the Pacific’s waves crash directly and forcefully onto the shore. Along with the Society Islands, the Marquesas were a major dispersal point for Polynesians who ventured thousands of miles farther to settle islands as distant as Hawai’i, Easter...

  12. EPILOGUE: Ethnic and Tourist Arts Revisited
    (pp. 335-354)
    Nelson H. H. Graburn

    I have been asked to open this concluding chapter with a short description of how I developed my interest and ideas in the field of ethnic and tourist arts and brought them to publication inEthnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World(1976). I then briefly explore the shifting academic climate and changing attitudes toward ethnic and tourist arts since my introduction to the topic in 1959. Finally, I offer some comments on the essays published in this volume, suggesting possible relations to those in Ethnic and Tourist Arts and discussing how this new collection contributes to...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 355-372)
    (pp. 373-406)
    (pp. 407-410)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 411-427)