How NOT to Get A-head in Anthropology: Anthropological Face Casts and Ongoing Issues of Ambiguity, Memory, and Resilience
Friday, February 11, 1:30 p.m.
Gwyneira Issac, Smithsonian Institution
Anthropologically informed plaster face casts were produced in the 19th and 20th centuries as part of an effort to develop human typologies, and to acquire data on what were perceived to be the morphological attributes of race. Their subsequent affective, politically sensitive, promiscuously mobile, and precarious qualities have resulted in them occupying highly charged territories within collections, as well as between museums and descendant communities. They are objects with inherent ambiguities due to how they exist at the intersections of art and science, merging individual, cultural, political, and colonialized bodies. Casts also provide tangible traces of unwanted physical intimacy resulting from how colonized peoples often had no choice in being cast or handled by strangers. In recent years, however, they have also been used by descendent communities as memorials of family members. This article explores this potent intersection of ambiguity and intimacy that these casts occupy, arguing for an ethical protocol for their treatment that acknowledges their history, colonial contexts, and the processes behind their creation, as well as their current legacies, facets of resilience, as well as their re-socialization through renewed relationships with descendant communities.
This talk is co-sponsored by the IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.