James Clifford’s essay, titled “Histories of the Tribal and the Modern,” speaks to how the West displays tribal art (the Other). It seems to repeatedly do so in a way that strips tribal cultures of their breath and affirms that of the West. Westerners seem to feel that they have permission and entitlement to everything non-Western in the present and past. Clifford describes this as “the restless desire and power of the modern West to collect the world” (Clifford, p 220). To Westerners, the world can look like a souvenir shop–and unfortunately, it can act like one too.
The question Clifford exclaims is one that has been haunting me throughout this course. He asks, “Could the story of this intercultural encounter be told differently?” (Clifford, pg 221). This quote is in relations to Rubin’s MOMA exhibit. Clifford notes that “it is worth making the effort to extract another story form the materials in the exhibition–a history not of redemption or discovery but of reclassification. This other history assumes that ‘art’ is not universal but is a changing Western cultural category.”
We cannot stop here. It is blatant from the MOMA and surrounding exhibits that dehumanize tribal art (the current interpretation that is widely accepted by the West and promotes the West’s superiority complex) has a whole other story to it. It is our job today to dust off the ignorance of our past and validate the breath behind the people who crafted these masterpieces.
Michaela Stock, Hope College 2020.
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