CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


CAUSEY, Andrew
"Primitive" Yet "Civilized": Toba Batak Carvings in the Western Canon of Art

Session 21 Connecting Art Histories and World Art

Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences,Columbia College Chicago


In only 150 years, objects from non-western small-scale societies have moved from being considered “artifact” to “art”. The west’s canon of art, composed of “masterworks,” had nothing but European works until the late 19th century. When the canon broadened, arts from so-called tribal groups appeared under the general rubric “primitive art” which jumbled the arts of Southeast Asia, Oceania, Australia, North and South America, and Africa into a single generalized, pan-cultural style-form. Soon after, these varied art objects from the west’s colonies stratified into their own canon: works from Africa and the Pacific islandsalways included, from North American Indiansoften, from Southeast Asian people (ie Toba Bataks of North Sumatra, Indonesia) only sometimes.

Iinvestigate the Western canon of art’s character, then examine how it embraced non-western objects. Focusing Toba Batak art, I will show how the westgrappled with the contradictions of this group’s cannibalism and their Pallava/Bramic-based writing system, and will suggest that this irony—a culture both "primitive" and "civilized"--jostled western consciousness,leaving them uncertain whether Batak carvings could be called “art”.

Might canons, be by their very nature, be emergent and contested? I will look atinternet sites (ieEbay, Pinterest, interactive Wiki-sites) to explore how the construction and evolution of “canon” has moved from “expert”to popular control.


CAUSEY, Andrew

Andrew Causey, PhD, is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago. He received his PhD from The University of Texas, Austin, in 1997 after having done his ethnographic fieldwork in the Toba Batak homeland, North Sumatra, Indonesia with the assistance of a IIE Fulbright Scholarship.

Professor Causey’s research interests include the fields of material culture (objects), art, and tourism, all of which came together in his research with the Toba Bataks on Samosir Island. Using theoretical positionings that range from Karl Mannheim to Paul Ricoeur and Louis Marin, In his ethnographic monograph, Hard Bargaining in Sumatra: Toba Bataks and Western Tourists in a Souvenir Marketplace (University of Hawai’i Press 2003), he sought to understand the nature of interpersonal interactions between western backpack travelers and Toba Bataksvia economic transactions. In addition to his book, Causey has published numerous articles on other aspects of Toba Batak life and culture (“Batak Selves: Personal, Spiritual, Collective,” in Everyday Life in Southeast Asia, 2011), and on anthropology pedagogy (“Objects Possessed, Drawn, Touched, Identified, and Sold,” in Museum Anthropology, 2015). He is currently completing work on his book "Drawn to See: drawing as an ethnographic method" (University of Toronto Press, proposed publication date November 2016).

Professor Causey teaches “Visual Anthropology,” “Voices, Gestures, Silences: an anthropology of communication,” “Introduction to Cultural Anthropology,” “Ethnographic Films,” "Writing Anthropology," "Social Objects,” and “Anthropology of Tourism.” He is an affiliate of the interdisciplinary Cultural Studies major at Columbia College Chicago, and is also an active painter, sculptor, and musician.