Ikat sequences and social-cultural patterns: the impact of industrialization on the lives of Iban artisans in Sarawak

Chalmers, Linda Louise (1993) Ikat sequences and social-cultural patterns: the impact of industrialization on the lives of Iban artisans in Sarawak. PhD thesis, James Cook University of North Queensland.

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This thesis concerns the relationship of ikat artwork and social practice, in the context of industrial society. It brings into focus the connections between making and using ceremonial cloths and specific systems of social thinking. Of special interest is the role of women artisans in the making of pre-state Iban culture. The thesis explores ways in which sequences of ikat work overlap with and serve to reproduce systems of social knowledge. In its attention to relations between makers of ikat artwork and cultural brokers in Sarawak in the 1990s, the study questions the impact of external cultural brokers on the agency of Iban women.

It is a participant-observation study which draws on the competencies of the writer as a textile artist, and her earlier post-graduate fieldwork among indigenous weavers in Latin America. An ethnographic approach is based on extended longhouse stays in the early 1990s, principally in two rural communities - one of which is remote and the other marked by much closer historic ties to outside socializing groups. While considerable questionnaire use is engaged to crosscheck basic materials, the methodology is consistent with the development of empathy and qualitative data through living with key informants.

The conceptual grounds are informed by the approach developed by modes of production theorists. In this case it is used more as a guiding principle than a rigid framework. It results in close scrutiny of continuities in access to the means by which indigenous artists reproduce their social practices. In the context of industrial society, the approach points to ways in which Iban women are denied direct agency in the making of their culture in the 1990s. The dominant theme of everyday practice draws on social-historical variables, in particular, patterns of pre-state land tenure and subsistence activities. In the 1990s, even the most remote Iban are increasingly engaged in wage labour and commercial agriculture. The analysis unravels capitalist relations with rural artisans, and identifies negative consequences in terms of the intellectual and aesthetic value of pre-state ikat artwork.

At issue are ways in which cultural brokers impinge on the opportunities of rural women to make critical decisions regarding art practice - a situation, the thesis argues, which undermines the wider agency of Iban women. Cultural brokers refers to both private patrons, and public bodies which include vocational training programs and national women's organizations.

The thesis analyzes the relationship of cultural brokers and development programs, and specifically, evidence that cultural brokers subsume rural artisans as wage labour. It finds that wherever rural women undertake craftwork which is discontinuous between ikat affected with everyday experience, the artwork and social practice is connection negatively

The implication is clear, that contemporary artwork which transmits the ideologies of external socializing groups, contributes to the loss of agency of the maker in her own community. A more general connection is made with the malfunctioning of indigenous systems of cultural knowledge.

The thesis makes a specific contribution to the anthropology of art, from the perspective of art as social practice. It does so by building on ethnographic understanding of intellectual and aesthetic elements which constitute indigenous artwork. In emphasizing this value, the thesis refutes assumptions in Western art theory concerning the marginality of indigenous women's practices in the domain of fine art.

Item ID: 44325
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: anthropology; artworks; cross-cultural communication; cultural brokers; culture; dyeing; ethnography; Iban women; ikat art; ikats; ikkats; social practice; textiles; women artisans
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2016 06:19
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 70%
19 STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 1905 Visual Arts and Crafts > 190502 Fine Arts (incl Sculpture and Painting) @ 30%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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