Review by Magdalena Gluszak - Holeksa

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Foreign Bodies – Performance, Art and Symbolic Anthropology

Chapter: Anonymity and “The Arts Called Primitive” 

by A. David Napier

In this essay A. David Napier explores and critiques ways in which the other, the "primitive" and the exotic become literally and metaphorically incorporated within a cultural identity, as well as the way in which we make the strange familiar by fitting it in within our (Western) frameworks. The "primitive" tends to be defined and reformed by the West in order for certain Eastern ideas, beliefs and concepts are adapted and conformed to our experiences. As once stated by a philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin, it is problematic to use accepted conventions to describe something that is supposed to “transcend normal experience and to be outside and beyond any kind of analogy with it” (p. 3). In the evaluation of the ways of experiencing what is beyond logic, Napier suggests the “loss of self” as a primary method for learning and increasing awareness, which is contrary to our psychoanalytic culture very much focusing on individualization as a way towards integrity, enlightened consciousness and progress. Similarly, the texts about mystical experiences from Middle Ages, mentioned in the journal article ‘The Word Made Fresh: Mystical Encounter and the New Weird Divine’, expressed that the encounter with the other was not to be explained, it was meant to tackle something beyond explainable and only experienced through the transcendence of the earthly ‘self’. In relation to the uncertain in art Napier argues that is it a matter of accessibility and what is our idea of discovery in how we approach, for example, an abstract painting. It is through simple visual analogies and “symbolic associations made between contemporary art and the art of alien or exotic traditions” (p.6) that one can make connection with an artwork, without depending on established terms. 

Work in progress by Magdalena

"Through the process of painting I explore the notion of uncertainty as a state of mind in relation to memory, time and perception."- Magdalena