The arts seek a connection with anthropology, we are told, and already in the 1990s Hal Foster had coined the term ‘the ethnographic turn’, pointing to the growing interest of artists and arts practitioners in issues of identity and its representation. Foster identified a kind of mirroring, in which practitioners from historically very different fields, gazed at each other projecting an ideal type, encompassing all that they would like to see in themselves.

This chapter, published in book ‘The Anthropologist as Curator’, edited by Roger Sansi, constructs a speculative nexus of the types of interconnection, intervention and sheer mutual incomprehension that has characterized the engagement between anthropological and curatorial practice.

It begins by exploring points of connection: the presential, processual nature of work that invites one actor to accompany the other in their day-to-day practice and the manner in which this may lead to the development of affective and embodied relations; the realization of a field of work in which there are multiple actors, each with unique spheres of practice, to whom the curator or anthropologist has diverse responsibilities; the emphasis of synthesizing a conceptual narrative from within (although not necessarily about) these positionalities and multiple actors and the construction of a body of work. The chapter then moves to points of processual difference suggesting that while curators may share with anthropologists a commitment to accompany, mediate, negotiate and, ultimately, synthesize, there is an equally powerful, unnamed and deep-seated curatorial commitment to leaving work open to interpretation, respecting the agency of the artist and allowing the visitor to come to their own understanding of what is being presented.

Focusing on such notions as the presentation of knowledge through exhibition design instead of text, the chapter concludes by suggesting that anthropological and curatorial practice reveals different positionalities and motivations, seeking fundamentally different ways to create and communicate knowledge.

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.