With his seminal essay ‘The artist as ethnographer?’, Hal Foster () put the. ‘ ethnographic turn’ in contemporary art high on the agenda of cultural studies. Reading: Hal Foster: The Artist as Ethnographer. Some Key Points: Assumption that the site of artistic transformation is the site of political. The Artist as Ethnographer? Hal Foster. I. THE ARTIST AS ETHNOGRAPHER? assumptions lead to another point of connection with the Be~amin account of the.

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Du Zhenjun, The Tower of Babel: Effect of projecting fosrer overlapping with our own unconscious. These contemporary art practices provide means for apprehending the performative aspects of quotidian experience, embodied meaning, affective intensity, and agency of objects and images.

Transidioethnography – Wikipedia

April Learn how and when to remove this template message. It is particularly important to consider these new renderings of ‘reality’ in societies that have undergone forms of violence or trauma that undercut realist notions of truth and evidence. These experimental modes of documenting help to elucidate the intersection of postwar subjectivity and the mundane experience of geopolitical processes. University of California Press, Over the years, the institution of art, could no longer be described simply in terms of physical space – studio, gallery, museum etc – it was a discursive network of other practices and institutions, other subjectivities and communities.

In conclusion, I return to the epigraph that started this essay. Based on my own research with filmmakers and mixed media artists in Lebanon, the idea of making sense – not based on comprehension per se, but rather on sensory experience – is productive for engaging work that deals with incomprehensible lived experiences.

Views Read Edit View history. To acknowledge these is not the same thing as legitimizing them, but to ignore them would be to dismiss the ‘background’ parameters mentioned at the beginning of thr essay. Retrieved from ” https: Secondly, the authority of the ethnographer is fraught with various forms of contestation as should be the artist engaged in social critique.


To do so would take for granted the various structures of legitimization that practitioners from the Middle East and across the global south must constantly negotiate in order to access the global art fozter.

Tata’s ethnographdr provides a poignant case study of the way experimental documentary in contexts of recurrent violence engenders alternative archives, fabulated narratives, and critical auto-ethnography. Though these characters are my creation, the structures of feeling are not. Bordering on documentary, but always infused with fictional elements, Tata’s representation of these people inscribes them within over-determined ideas of conspiracy, of which they claim no direct knowledge.

In the face of personal and communal suffering, media saturation, ideological machinations, historical density, and inaccessible lived experiences, neither art nor anthropology can hope to represent something as abstract as the ‘Lebanese civil war’.


Documentary artefacts are thus not records of the real, but casings, hollow shells, empty remnants of remembering. After this encounter, Tata refused to take my calls and when I saw him at Al Madina Theatre he acted as eyhnographer he had never met me.

These documentary endeavours are efforts to make manifest the imaginaries that haunt a landscape of forgetfulness, amnesia and impossible representations. Most of this work, he says, ‘interrogates the history of American wars in the Orient’.

Westmoreland’ – the figure he was supposedly investigating in ‘The Post Script Project’. Anthropologists Arnd Schneider and Christopher Wright argue that anthropology needs to critically engage with artistic practices that draw on material and sensual registers rather than only textual ones.

Yet though the practice of self-othering is important to the critical practice of art, Forster warns it can lead to self-absorption, ethnographic self-fashioning, and narcissistic self-refurbishing.


As a fellow anthropologist, I want to suggest another area of enquiry, which is concerned with ethnographic aesthetics and affective modes ethnographef knowledge production, an area of theory that visual anthropologists, ethnomusicologists and anthropologists of the senses and the body have been developing in recent years. I met with Marhaba Tata when I was doing my fieldwork in Beirut.

For those artists who have appropriated ethnography within their practices, Foster’s critique is aetist. Tata’s efforts to re-voice the American diplomatic missions in the region draws upon toster he found in the debris of the US embassy after it had been obliterated by a car bomb in But these ‘critiques’ are often commissioned, and site specific work faces the danger of becoming a museum category, where the institution imports critique for purposes of inoculation.

This critical distance doesn’t provide time to see the past more objectively, but rather to see the way ideas, images and objects from the past refract in the present in ways that elucidate the social and political imaginaries. What are the results? In The Return of the RealHal Foster ethjographer the goals and practices neo-avant-garde art movements and their relation to modernist movements such as dada, surrealism, and constructivism.

Tata thus appropriates both the initials and the contents to utter a subversive afterthought from the rubble-reduced edifice of the American diplomatic mission. Shifting the frame of analysis to the sensory and affective registers of contemporary Arab art has radical implications.

Schneider, Arnd, and Wright, Christopher English ed.