From the end of November until the first week of December 2015, Montevideo witnessed an intense traffic not of vehicles (what would be quite unusual in this calm metropolis) but in culture. Twenty years after Marcus and Myers’ ground-breaking collection, ‘The Traffic in Culture’ (1995) the capital of Uruguay testified a very atypical panel, on contemporary art and anthropology, at the eleventh Anthropology Meeting of Mercosul. With the aim to address western art worlds and contemporary art, discover affinities between anthropology’s way of thinking and that of the art world and renegotiate the relationship between art and anthropology, the panel lived up to its title: “Art and Anthropology: new approaches, new relations”. Evidently, it was not a tribute to Marcus and Myers, and despite the affinities mentioned, its own concerns were very much contemporary, stimulating a high level debate and engaging researchers from Brazil, Peru, Chile, Mexico and Italy, to put forward contemporary anthropological concerns in a panel quite different from the classical approach to the anthropology of art.

Coordinated by Alex Flynn (University of Durham, UK) and Dayana Zdebsky de Cordova (Universidade Federal de São Carlos, Brazil), the proposal was not only to apply “new anthropological theories to ethnographic situations characterized by artistic production, but to foment new anthropological theories through involvement with conceptual approaches that support actual artistic production in its different expressions” (Flynn and de Cordova, 2015). Works focused on theories of sociality in art inspired by James Elkins (1996), Nicolas Bourriaud (1998) and other authors interested in the transformative dimensions created by art; post-fordists artworks structures (Boltanski e Chiapello 2005), the emergence of new markets, social movements, artivism, protests, and new politic subjectivities were welcomed in each of its six sessions.

The first session, “Circulation and practices”, combined analysis of indigenous painting, Chilean documentary and creative economy highlighting trajectories, market sectors, decision making and brokers. Maria Eugenia Miranda of the Universidad Ricardo Palma
, Peru, analysed the past two decades of bora and huitoto paintings from Peruvian Amazon, in the works of Víctor Churay, Brus Rubio, Santiago Yahuarcani and Rember Yahuarcani, and underlined the importance of anthropologists as mediators between artists and art worlds. Maria Paz Peirano of the University of Kent, UK, spoke about the trajectories of Chilean documentary cinema at festivals since the renewal of 2010, focusing on production, exchange and cooperation networks, and the articulation of political and artistic subjectivities. Louise Scoz of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, presented an on-going ethnographic research enquiry of so-called ‘creative economies’ based on startups, investigating the political issues emerging from art, creativity and innovation with reference to economy, technology and markets.

The second panel, entitled “Art and politics”, was opened by Alex Flynn, who employed Bourriaud’s relational aesthetics as a dialogical way to place contemporary art and anthropological theories of sociality into productive dialogue. Bourriaud’s micro-utopias and Nestor García Canclini’s notion of imminence (Canclini 2013) were employed with a renewed focus on the Maussian theory of the gift, exercised by Flynn’s ethnography of the Landless Movement’s “mystics” and the contemporary artivism arena in São Paulo. The performances analysed presented shared experience, sensitive and ethical metamorphosis, based on ambiguity and intentional lapses of signification. This brought forward reflections on political subjectivity, democracy, knowledge and artistic production. Jeanine Geammal of the Escola de Belas Artes of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, reflected upon the category of the artisan at Cariri, a small city in northeast Brazil that hosts an artcraft and cultural centre called “Master Noza”. Refusing to employ reified concepts of “art”, “artcraft” or “popular art” she analysed objects and images in their own materiality and agency through the theory of Didi-Huberman, and the concepts of “memory and survival”, of Aby Warburg and Walter Benjamin. Ligia Dabul of the Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil, addressed the invisibility of popular contemporary art practices, exploiting the tension between peculiar art world processes, involving production, value, selling, notions of beauty and worldviews. Jorge Juárez Li of the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Perú exposed the trajectory of photo group LimaFotoLibre, since its first marginal urban interventions up to its acceptance in reputed galleries and art museums. The negotiations, articulations and circuits of LimaFotoLibre’s presentation of the capital of Peru were combined with an analysis of the theme, style and photographic composition in a dense ethnographic process.

On the morning of December 2, the panel opened with a session devoted to “epistemological paths”. Pedro Cesarino of the University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil, put forward a provocative presentation on comparison, connection and translation of different ontological regimes. This theoretical focus was based on analyses of such exhibitions as ‘Magiciens de la terre’, ‘Primitivism in 20th Century’, ‘Animism’, ‘Histoires de voir’ and ‘Histórias mestiças’. This session counted on two further members of USP. Daniel Dinato’s presentation was also an attempt to reflect upon notions of “ontological conflicts” instantiated by contemporary art installations and performances based on Viveiros de Castro’s notion of equivoques, perspectivism and subjects. While Paolo Colosso focused on urban contradiction both in its exploitation and domination aspect and in its possibilities of innovation, inspired by the Situationists’ works and practices and Henri Lefebvre’s theoretical framework. The urban spaces for Paolo were seen both as theme, support and use value to other political and aesthetical possibilities to make “une autre ville pour une autre vie”.

After an intense morning on questions of epistemology, the afternoon session focused on “Space and circuits” and the topic of contemporary art fairs, collecting, and markets. Bruna Fetter of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, suggested that the overshadowing of biennales by art fairs is a wider symptom connected to changes pertaining to the contemporary art world, impacting on art marchands, critics, dealers and collectors. She approached the “ecosystem” of such events through three perspectives: as a legitimation and distinction process, a business platform, and as a very specific social network. Dayana Zdebsky de Cordova of the Federal University of São Carlos, Brazil, proposed a more internal and ethnographical approach to the same universe. She emphasized the impact of contemporary theory and research inside the art system itself, what articulates specialists both as reflexive and as strategic agents, simultaneously analysing and producing the field’s needs. Simone Carneiro da Cunha of Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, discussed the complexity of the cultural production of music, from its creative procedures to the technical, recording and copywriting processes through an analysis of the career and trajectory of the musician, producer and editor Egberto Gismonti.

The last day of the conference started with an effervescent discussion of “the artist as anthropologist” abridging a multitude of contributions. José Bento Ferreira of the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil, assumed Hans Belting’s and Marie-José Mondzain’s framework to analyse the works, interpersonal relations and gifts created by the artist “Silvia M” in her off-stream cultural processes in São Paulo. Lorenzo Bordonaro of the Federal University of Sergipe, Brazil, mobilised his experience as an Italian visual artist/activst to create, in collaboration with youth immigrants in Lisbon, an intervention in public space that exposed the policy of eviction occurring in the city’s neighbourhood. Flavia Gervásio (UNIRIO) and Anna Thereza De Menezes of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, presented an analysis of the investigation, field research and resultant works made by artists Paulo Nazareth, Ícaro Lira and Jonathas de Andrade, casting light on concepts of alterity and identification as put in motion by these practitioners.

The final session was devoted to issue of “Research and artistic process”. Cauê Krüger of the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná, Brazil, presented a rich overview of the Brazilian anthropology of theatre, going beyond the contribution of performance studies, to ethnographically address an artistic and intellectual research process undertaken by the Companhia Brasileira de Teatro. This “Project Brazil“ involved field research, academic reviews and conferences resulting in a performance characterized by contemporary dramaturgy, post-dramatic theatre and relatedness as theorized by Ryngaert, Lehmann and Bourriaud, illustrating the academic modus operandi of contemporary theatre. Marcela Soares da Silva of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, connected the discourses and memory about a downtown area in São Paulo, known as Praça Roosevelt, and the processes of revitalization, theatrical settlements and also performances that have created a particular sensitive and political appropriation of urban areas. Fabiana Severo of the same university started her ethnography about electroacoustic music by taking a specialized course on the subject. Once “admitted” to this restricted circuit, Fabiana researched three university music groups in their creative, technical production, circulation and consumption of this music style, mobilising the theory of Latour’s network and Seeger’s ethnomusicologic research.

“Art and anthropology: new approaches, new relations” was not only a fertile space to discuss contemporary art, visual culture, ethnography, alterity, cities and power from different frameworks and perspectives, as a research event it also sought to integrate artists and social science researchers to a multidisciplinary conversation. Pointing to the significant growth of importance of this field to contemporary Latin American discourse. The high level theoretical debates also were accompanied by detailed fieldwork and ethnographic expositions that were not limited by the possibilities of the written text. Inspiring intellectual, methodological and interdisciplinary exchanges occurred and will certainly result in new productive discussions and publications. Let the traffic continue!

Cauê Kruger
Lecturer at the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná


auflynn [at]

Alex Ungprateeb Flynn is an Assistant Professor at the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, University of California, Los Angeles. Working as an anthropologist and curator, Alex’s practice explores the intersection of ethnographic and curatorial modes of enquiry. Researching collaboratively with activists, curators and artists in Brazil since 2007, Alex explores the prefigurative potential of art in community contexts, prompting the theorisation of fields such as the production of knowledge, the pluriversal, and the social and aesthetic dimensions of form.