‘ethnomimesis’

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no one guessed the title yet? 3 hints: nonfiction, bicycle, vietnam.

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here is just a short excerpt from Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century by James Clifford. a fascinating book that i am almost finished reading!

from a chapter titled “Museums as Contact Zones”:

On the contemporary scene, the performance of culture and tradition — what Robert Cantwell (1993) called ‘ethnomimesis’ — may include empowerment and participation in a wider public sphere as well as commodification in an increasingly hegemonic game of identity. Why would tribal people be eager to dance in New York or London? Why play the game of self-representation?

Such visitors, their hosts, and impresarios are not free of colonial legcies of exoticism and neocolonial processes of commodification. Nor are they entirely confined by these repressive structures. It is important to recognize this complexity. For what exceeds the apparatus of coercion and stereotype in contact relations may perhaps be reclaimed for current practice in movements to expand and democratize what can happen in museums and related sites of ethnomimesis. The historical possibilities of contact relations — negative and positive — need to be confronted.

In cases where coercion is not direct, when non-Western artists, culture makers, and curators enter Western museums on their own (negotiated) terms, the collection sites of art and anthropology can no longer be understood primarily in terms of Promethean discovery and discerning selection. They become places of crossing, explicit and unacknowledged, occasions for different discoveries and selections.

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[excerpt continued:

Some illuminating current examples are found in Fusion: West African Artists at the Venice Biennale, interviews conducted by Thomas McEvilley (1993). Tamessir Dia — a Senegalese, born in Mali, raised in Ivory Coast, and educated in France — expresses an African ‘contact perspective.’ After noting his admiration for Delacroix, Cezanne, and especially Picasso, Dia adds:

To my perception, what’s happening in Europe and America belongs to me. one day someone asked me what I thought about Picasso and otehr European painters and I said, ‘In France, I took what belongs to me. Picasso came and took things from my home. I went to France and took things that are mine.’ For me the European tradition was way of reunderstanding my own civilization’s value, because Europe after the First World War was having a crisis of imagination, a crisis of development in an artistic sense, a cultural sense. And they turned to Africa. I also understand that used my heritage to develop their own, so why can’t I take theirs, whatever is technically useful to me, to express myself?

[…]

I am not limited to African culture — that would be absurd; it would be ridiculous fro any African today to speak of Africanity or Negritude. What you are is in everything, it’s in your spirit.’

Africa and Europe have been thrown together by destructive and creative histories of empire, commerce, and travel; each uses the other’s traditions to remake its own. Pratt, following Fernando Ortiz and Angel Rama, calls such processes ‘transculturations.’ Until recently in the West, transculturation has been understood hierarchically, in ways that naturalize a power imbalance and the claim of one group to define history and authenticity.

For example, African using Europe’s hertage were seen to be imitating, losing their traditions in a zero-sum game of acculturation; Europeans using African cultural resources appeared to be creative, progressive, inclusive modernists. Views such as those of Tamessir Dia suggest a more complex history of translations and appropriations.

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So what do you all think of this? i will of course engage in any comments! peace

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2 thoughts on “‘ethnomimesis’

  1. Holy shit. I’ve gotta get my hands on that book. I’ve found my brain playing a little internal pinball lately, vis a vis globalization, cultural integration and commodification. (I swear it’s my new favorite word. I’ll wear it out in a month.) Too many feet were wearing down the pyramids and thousands of tons of petrified wood are stolen from the Petrified Forest every year. It’s a little naive to think we wouldn’t leave more idelible marks on the cultures we so progressively try to invibe. It’s only natural that they recreate the cave paintings a hundred yards away and re-enact the African dances in the museum. And we’re all caught in the simulacrum, and if we did make it back to Africa, we probably wouldn’t find them practicing the dance. The result is inevitable, that we’ll reinterpret the past in a new way, the same as in any historical period. History will collide with medium, and we have access to more history and more mediums than ever before, the natural result being that we will recreate history through methods that didn’t exist when the history was created. The dance isn’t danced to bring rain for the crops, it’s danced to show people how it may have been danced. In presenting a more living representation of history, it’s also stripped of much of it’s core. You read about it, you have a whole section devoted to the agriculture of region, the seasons and climate. You go see the dance, and you’re caught in the beat, but it’s hard to imagine the drawing on of rain in the middle of a museum. The thing that really gets me going is wondering what the result will be of culture exploding all over the world, pressing one against the other and bleeding into each other. There’s a valid fear that the soul of the thing(s) will be stripped out. It seems inevitable to me. We can’t keep them for what they were while moving forward with the rest of it. But soul always exists, and it’ll exist in the framework of what we’ve deconstructed. And not in some intellectual sense, the way I like to lean back and smoke a cigarette and bullshit about the way things are. In the drinking, loving, fucking, eating, working sense that allows people to live their lives the way they will. That’s fucking exciting to me.

  2. wow! awesome comment forest … do check it out, would love to hear what you think about it…also check out clifford’s The Predicament of Culture (of which Routes is the sequel)…lots of things that our Road Trip years ago would make for interesting discussion.

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