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About humanity, not ethnicity? : transculturalism, materiality, and the politics of performing aboriginality on the Northwest Coast Campbell, Alice Marie

Abstract

In this multi-sited thesis based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted from 2002-2004, I examine how the transcultural production of Northwest Coast material culture subverts the hegemonic, discursive, and traditionalist constructions of 'Aboriginality' that have isolated Northwest Coast artists from the contemporary art world (Duffek 2004). This inquiry thus partakes in a very long dialogue in anthropology about how words and things differently convey cultural knowledge (see Cruikshank 1992). The thesis will consider contemporary material culture scholars' inquiries into how objects intermediate between people and culture (see Munn 1986), particularly in post-colonial situations (Thomas 1991; 1999). It will show, through two case studies on the Northwest Coast - Rebecca Belmore's solo 2002 exhibition at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia and Northwest Coast-style artists who practice in Seattle and Sequim WA - how objects can make people conscious of social and political affinities and make difference palpable in ways that exceed the limits of discursive representation. Drawing on my conversations with the artists, I extend Küchler's argument that the materiality of objects can act as a cognitive agent (Küchler 2001) to suggest that materiality might also be usefully re-conceptualized as a tool for social critique and political action.

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