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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/8ybr-z611

technical paper

AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Performing Truth to Power: Public Art as Resistance, Dissenesus, and Civic Engagement


civic engagement



The work of French philosopher Rancier (2013) has been taken up within anthropological inquiry (Winegar 2018, Monahan 2017, Atkinson 2017) to consider how creative practices in contemporary society allow for the expression of marginalized voices often silenced because of their ability to cause “dissensus” within the public sphere. However, while dissensus suggests overt resistance, art -- which often takes on the form of subversive performances -- rests on co-constructed ideological stances within communities and, at times, alongside institutions. In this way, communities negotiate control over their own narratives but also acknowledge the place-bound institutions and social processes (e.g., settler colonialism, gentrification, class distinction, or even revolution), which utilize their own standards for producing and, at times, obscuring truth (Shuman 1993). The networks of people who support and create expressive culture, what Becker (1982) calls "art worlds," constitute their own version of the “local,” which emerges from an immediacy of routine contact and shared practices. These daily processes of identity (re)construction not only occur at various scales (local, national, and global) but are productive conversations among the social actors involved in the creation, appreciation, and valuation art. However, where those in power drive State-sponsored events, local policies, and narratives that reconstruct community membership and belonging on the ground, various grassroots movements emerge to challenge the ideologies responsible for these erasures -- many of which are birthed out of performance arts and design communities. In response, this panel examines the diverse truths challenged and (re)positioned by public arts projects, i.e., those that do not assume static or top-down power relations but rather provokes the continual contestation and negotiation between social actors, communities, and institutions. Furthermore, as these revolutionary movements arise as a means for reclaiming identities, stories, symbols, and sites of cultural significance, they encapsulate timely contentions between the State vs. local, urban vs. provincial, by-gone vs. modern, and the alternative vs. the authenticated • all depicting the arts as influential in shaping local discourses, cultural practices, and policies (Jackson 2013, MacClancey 1997, Wirtz 2014). Heavily drawing upon ethnographic research, the work presented will span geographic regions -- from Washington D.C., Ecuador, Tunisia, Morocco, and Pakistan -- while observing localized use of contemporary art forms (i.e., verbal art traditions, theater, television, fashion, and design). These projects also employ multidisciplinary and multimodal approaches, as seen within visual anthropology, ethnopoetics and linguistics anthropology, anthropology of education, and urban anthropology, to analyze how social actors (re)produce and (re)frame histories, political movements, and cultural ideologies. Overall, these presentations highlight 1) the ways in which dominant groups (re)construct belonging -- in terms of who is seen, included, and represented in local policies and practices, 2) the ways in which revolutionary artists utilize pedagogical or poetic practices as well as indigenous dress and architectural installations to induce public engagement, 3) how these artistic projects work to reclaim community narratives and customs, and 4) how representations of place and community are continuously co-constructed and negotiated across institutions of power as well as within the public sphere.


Transcript English (automatic)

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