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Art as Politics

Kathleen M. Adams

Publication Year: 2006

Art as Politics explores the intersection of art, identity politics, and tourism in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Based on long-term ethnographic research from the 1980s to the present, the book offers a nuanced portrayal of the Sa’dan Toraja, a predominantly Christian minority group in the world’s most populous Muslim country. Celebrated in anthropological and tourism literatures for their spectacular traditional houses, sculpted effigies of the dead, and pageantry-filled funeral rituals, the Toraja have entered an era of accelerated engagement with the global economy marked by on-going struggles over identity, religion, and social relations. In her engaging account, Kathleen Adams chronicles how various Toraja individuals and groups have drawn upon artistically-embellished "traditional" objects—as well as monumental displays, museums, UNESCO ideas about "word heritage," and the World Wide Web—to shore up or realign aspects of a cultural heritage perceived to be under threat. She also considers how outsiders—be they tourists, art collectors, members of rival ethnic groups, or government officials—have appropriated and reframed Toraja art objects for their own purposes. Her account illustrates how art can serve as a catalyst in identity politics, especially in the context of tourism and social upheaval. Ultimately, this insightful work prompts readers to rethink persistent and pernicious popular assumptions—that tourism invariably brings a loss of agency to local communities or that tourist art is a compromised form of expression. Art as Politics promises to be a favorite with students and scholars of anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, ethnic relations, art, and Asian studies.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. ix-xi

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Chapter 1. Carvings, Christianity, and CHiPs

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pp. 1-34

Some researchers are lured by distant, palm-fringed island beach communities; others are enticed by bustling urban centers; but in my case it was the high tropical mountains of South Sulawesi, Indonesia, homeland of an ethnic group known as the Sa’dan Toraja.1 (See Map 1.) Ever since my first undergraduate literary encounters...

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Chapter 2. Competing Toraja Images of Identity

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pp. 35-72

My introduction to the politically charged nature of identity imagery in Tana Toraja began on my third day in Rantepao. I was hunting for a map of the area, and several young aspiring Toraja guides steered me in the direction of a small general store near the market. ...

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Chapter 3. The Carved Tongkonan [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 73-110

A few weeks after settling in at Ne’ Duma’s family home, I set out to find a carving mentor. My initial prospect was Ne’ Lindo, a charismatic, fine-featured carver in his fifties, with closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair, thick glasses, and twinkling eyes. Ne’ Lindo resided with his family inKe’te’ Kesu’ and ran a small but lucrative carving kiosk not far from Indo’...

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Chapter 4. Mortuary Effigies and Identity Politics

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pp. 111-138

In the late 1920s a young Frenchwoman named Titayna set off on an adventure to the Borneo and Sulawesi hinterlands. Her travels were later chronicled in the sensationally titled book: A Woman in the Land of the Headhunters (Une femme chez les chausseurs de t

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Chapter 5. Ceremonials, Monumental Displays, and Museumification

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pp. 139-166

It was early evening in August 1995, on my second night back in the village, and I was sitting with my adopted Toraja family absently watching the national television station (TVRI) that was broadcasting around the clock in celebration of Indonesia’s fiftieth anniversary of independence. ...

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Chapter 6. Toraja Icons on the National and Transnational Stage

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pp. 167-192

This chapter pursues a number of themes pertaining to cultural pastiches, cultural appropriation, art, and the negotiation of Toraja identity and values in ever-widening spheres. Central here is the issue of how, in the context of growing interethnic, interreligious, and economic turmoil, Torajasare struggling to project their identity and viewpoints beyond the local...

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Chapter 7. Carving New Conceptions of Community in an Era of Religious and Ethnic Violence

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pp. 193-208

On a brisk morning in 1997, some time after the anti-Chinese rioting, a convoy of trucks rumbled into Rantepao. The trucks screeched to a halt at the town’s dusty main intersection, where villagers awaited public transport to the buffalo market and unemployed Toraja guides lingered along-side snoozing Makassarese becak drivers. ...

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Chapter 8. From Toraja Heritage to World Heritage?

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pp. 209-215

Throughout this book I have illustrated how art can serve as an active ingredient in identity politics. In this regard this book contributes to a growing literature that critiques traditional perspectives on art and material creations as passive mirrors of the social relations in the creator culture. ...


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pp. 217-246


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pp. 247-251


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pp. 253-273

Index [Includes About the Author]

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pp. 275-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861483
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824829995

Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 631445114
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Art as Politics

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Celebes (Indonesia) -- Social life and customs.
  • Celebes (Indonesia) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Wood-carving, Toraja -- Indonesia -- Celebes.
  • Architecture, Toraja -- Indonesia -- Celebes.
  • Culture and tourism -- Indonesia -- Celebes.
  • Toraja (Indonesian people) -- Social life and customs.
  • Toraja (Indonesian people) -- Ethnic identity.
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