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Ontologies of the Image and Economies of Exchange

Fred Myers
American Ethnologist
Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb., 2004), pp. 5-20
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3805301
Page Count: 16
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Ontologies of the Image and Economies of Exchange
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Abstract

In the early 1970s, the Aboriginal artist and activist Wandjuk Marika asked the Australian government to investigate the unauthorized use of Yolngu clan designs on a variety of commodity forms, inaugurating a process of recognizing Indigenous ownership of "copyright" in such designs. This treatment of design-and of culture-as a form of property involves understandings and practices of materiality and subjectivity that differ from those informing indigenous, Aboriginal relationships to cultural production and circulation. In this article I explore the significance for material culture theory of recent work on and events in the development of notions of cultural property. One of my main concerns is the relevance of local understandings of objectification, or objectness, and human action-as embedded in object-ideologies. I discuss the limited capacity of legal discourses of cultural property to capture and reflect the concerns of Indigenous Australians about their own relation to culture, to creativity, and to expression.

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