Art as Politics: Re-Crafting Identities, Tourism, and Power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia

Hardback: $59.00
ISBN-13: 9780824829995
Published: August 2006
Paperback: $27.00
ISBN-13: 9780824830724
Published: August 2006

Additional Information

304 pages | 35 illus., 15 in color
  • About the Book
  • 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.

  • Contributors
    • Kathleen M. Adams is professor of anthropology at Loyola University Chicago and adjunct curator at the Field Museum of Natural History.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • This book is quite rare because it combines sophisticated interdisciplinary analysis, extensive firsthand field research, and a narrative that is both compelling and delightful to read. . . . This is not only social science at its best but it is written with the emotion and insight of excellent literature.
      Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award (Social Sciences), Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
    • The major strength of this book is in its detailed, beautifully written ethnography, and a long engagement with a field that has ranged from a ‘village study’ to research beyond the boundaries of Southeast Asia.
      Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
    • A dynamic, informative and refreshing book. . . . Scholars, students or anyone interested in Indonesia, the Toraja peoples, artistic processes, national and global forces upon local societies, good storytelling and impressive cultural anthropology will appreciate this book. It is quite an accomplishment.
      Pacific Affairs
    • The clarity and color of Adams’s writing conveys a ‘you-are-there’ quality; the reader sits next to her, drinking coffee, learning the latest news of family, major happenings since she last visited, and carefully crafted interpretations of customs and beliefs. She relegates her meticulous ethnographic explication and theoretical references to footnotes, keeping the narrative lively. This ‘experience-near’ writing strategy renders the fieldwork process seemingly transparent, offering up the challenges and deep pleasures of doing anthropology in a local place with multiple strands of translocal connections. Scholars and students at all levels will find Adams’s work engaging and a major contribution to our understanding the dynamics of art, ethnicity and identity, tourism, and the politics of place in the contemporary world.
      American Anthropologist
    • The Sa’dan Toraja come to life in this sympathetic, richly painted, and authoritative portrait. . . . Adam’s study makes a major contribution to the anthropology of tourism and to the understanding of cultural politics in Southeast Asia. More than this it adds significantly to that body of work, now well-represented in Indonesia, on cultural flows and transformations at the margins, contact sites and border-zones of the Javanese dominated nation-state.
      Association for Southeast Asian Studies in the United Kingdom News
    • This very fine ethnography spans an unusually long time frame that, at the conclusion, finds the author in the middle of UNESCO recognition of this region and people as a World Heritage Site (2001), illustrating that tourism is a globally unfolding process that is neither imposed nor entirely locally managed. General readers and specialists alike will find this book an exceptional contribution to the study of tourism from a thickly described, historically charged point of view. . . . Highly recommended.
    • Sophisticated. . . . The long-term ethnographic perspective makes this insightful work an excellent read for those scholars of tourism interested in anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, ethnic relations, art, and Asian studies.
    • The unusual richness and appeal of this insightful book unfold in layers, delightful to read yet theoretically sophisticated. Attentive to the ironies, entanglements, and serendipities of life, Adams demonstrates through prose and photographs the changing worlds of Toraja individuals and their artistic productions. Her deeply perceptive, epic account has so much to say that it leaves no room for jargon. She offers instead a mature, refreshingly honest, engaging approach that dynamically illuminates the intricate interconnections between arts and society in the contemporary world. An anthropology of art for these times, Art as Politics meticulously draws from scholarly works while building on the richness of its own history.
      Jill Forshee, author of Between the Folds: Stories of Cloth, Lives, and Travels from Sumba