The Value of Aesthetics
Oaxacan Woodcarvers in Global Economies of Culture
Recipient of the Esmlie Horniman Anthropological Scholarship, 2007
This project is based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork (2008-2009) with artisans in the village of San MartÍn Tilcajete, Oaxaca, where Oaxacan woodcarvings (or “alebrijes”) are produced for sale to tourists, art collectors, museums and wholesalers. The central theoretical concern is how the aesthetic projects and expectations of art producers and consumers condition the economic and social worlds in which artisans and artists work and live.
The publications based on this research address questions that fall within three general themes: (1) artisans’ aesthetic practices, including questions of how production is experienced aesthetically and conceptualisations of authorship, style and skill; (2) how different actors’ aesthetic sensibilities produce and reproduce the woodcarvings as a genre; and (3) the political consequences of these aesthetic practices for issues of competition, community politics, belonging and emergent understandings of aesthetic ownership, now frequently framed in the language of intellectual property. In making these arguments, the project also charts the nature of contemporary artisanal work from the micro-level of household workshops, to international experiences of artisans in the ethnic art markets in the United States, and to large-scale issues of the globalization of culture.