top of page

Artistic Peripheries in Americanist Studies

The issue of cores and peripheries has plagued Americanist studies since the early developments in archaeology and anthropology. The study of civilisations has been heavily tinted of classicist colours, giving prominence to stable, agricultural societies, and those that left permanent monuments to their cultural achievement. Admittedly, doing anthropology, archaeology, and art history without concrete evidence is hard, and object-based disciplines historically concentrated where there was material to be investigated. This inevitably created the perception that civilisations that left minimal traces of their presence were marginal to the discourse of civilisation without considering the possibility that perishable material culture may have once been as important to certain societies as permanent structures, or monumental architecture. The increasing gap between perceived centres of civilisation and their peripheries inevitably generated cultural black holes about which little or nothing could be said. Few have been the art historians, and archaeologists who have taken it upon themselves to review the multifarious artistic production of all Amerindian societies beyond conventional models. Such scholars adopted a relativistic stance to art production and appreciation, avoiding issues of quality and hierarchical evaluations about stylistic achievements and accomplishments. All Amerindian societies expressed ideas, thoughts, emotional states, as well as status, power, transcendence, and various forms of relationships with tangible and incorporeal realities part of their world. Whether with strings, feathers, copper, or clay, Amerindian expressions ought to be assessed in their cultural, social, economic and historical contexts. Only through a capillary study of the complex meanings associated with the procurement of raw materials, production, display, use, and disposal of utilitarian and non-utilitarian human-made objects will we ever be able to appreciate that each culture is its own centre and that the world surrounding it is the periphery. A local (anthropological) understanding of these dynamics perhaps will help us break free from commonsensical assumptions about levels of importance, and the role each culture plays in the deployment of historical change.


bottom of page