Editorial welcome

Why do people create and engage with things? What do specific material objects mean to different individuals in distinct socio-historical contexts? What happens to artefacts when taken from one place to another in terms of their meaning, value and impact?

This online resource presents case studies from around the world that address these and related questions. While some of the studies trace the circulation of specific imagery in contexts of global connectedness, others follow artefacts as they move across time and space and are appropriated by different social actors in concrete spatial environments. Power dynamics that influence the material production and social lives of artefacts, and that affect the possibilities and limitations of artefact-centred creative improvisations, are also under scrutiny.

Since the inception of CIM:Resource in October 2012, this series of entries has included such discussion topics as the phenomenon of light and designers in Sweden; the uses to which colonial-era silver coins are put in contemporary rural India; a painting by an Aboriginal Australian contemporary artist; and a shirt belonging to Ronaldo, given by the footballer as an offering to Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil. Some of the studies examine objects that appear in galleries and museums; others with more everyday, otherwise unremarkable, items.

These studies therefore explore a growing diversity of people and things, and the interactions between them. While a variety of sub-themes tie specific cases together, in broader terms, CIM:Resource allows users to explore creative production and appropriation in interconnected fields of local, translocal and transnational activity.

Several entries reflect on the tense boundary between ‘art object’ and ‘ethnographic artefact’. Øivind Fuglerud, for instance, considers ‘Law Poles’, a work by the Australian Aboriginal artist Ron Yunkaport, which was exhibited at the Museum of Anthropology (MoA), Vancouver. The object, being sacred, would ordinarily be ‘dangerous’ if it had not been ‘made quiet’ prior to its display. And yet it is presented no differently from any other art object. Fuglerud investigates how the status of the work as art, religious or ethnographic artefact is never made clear by the artist or curator. This object reveals how ethnographic museums like MoA struggle to present pieces by contemporary artists whose understanding of art is informed by locally-specific notions of object agency.

‘Law Poles’ by Ron Yunkaport

‘Law Poles’ by Ron Yunkaport

The ways in which artefacts become entangled in religious practices and debates is another of our themes. Rhoda Woets presents an image of a television studio set in Ghana where a show called ‘The Pulpit’ is produced. This is a ‘Pop Idol’-type programme in which contestants compete as preachers and are judged by a panel of three Evangelical pastors, before being dismissed by an audience vote expressed through phone calls and text messages. Woets outlines the debate the programme raised in Ghana especially with regards to fakery and fetishism. The show was seen by some Pentecostals as privileging the carnal over the spiritual and thus of devilish provenance. This entry in CIM:Resource thus places the programme in a broader analysis of the role of mass media in Ghanaian Pentecostal Christianity.

The Pulpit TV studio set

The Pulpit TV studio set

Many of the entries discuss the responses given by artists, craftspeople and other cultural producers to ideas and experiences of a globalising world. Maruška Svašek looks at the masks used in a work of performance art by the US-based, Ghanaian-born artist George Hughes. She examines how Hughes deployed the masks in order to play with foreign stereotypes of ‘African-ness’. The masks were bought in a New York department store and their colour and material distinguished them from ‘authentic’ African artefacts. Svašek analyses Hughes’ use of the masks as a commentary on the inequalities that allow artists such as Picasso to draw from non-Western themes and not be totally defined by them, while Ghanaian and other non-Western artists are expected to work within a ‘culture’, and are thus denied the luxury of a global artistic subjectivity.

George Hughes masks

George Hughes masks

The images and text presented here address the complex (and often surprising) lives of objects, entangled as they are in human social and cultural worlds.

Dr Amit Desai, Brunel University London, in collaboration with Dr Leon Wainwright at The Open University.

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