De-Colonising the Western Gaze: The Portrait as a Multi-Sensory Cultural Practice


2019

Doctoral Thesis

Centre for Socially Engaged Practice-Based Research

Technological University Dublin

This art practice-based thesis addresses the ocularcentric approach inherent in Western representations of ‘otherness’ with a view to expanding notions of the ‘portrait’ as a culturally specific practice. Drawing on a selection of projects conducted over two decades across diverse cultural contexts, together with written publications, the thesis explores possible ways to identify and theorise alternative methodological and analytical frameworks through which the Other can be represented. Turning the gaze upon the artist/researcher in performative acts of mutual representation as a dialogical method, cross-cultural projects addressed in the thesis include the indigenous Sámi’s yoik, the Aboriginal Australian’s track reading and female veiling in Yemen. The thesis comprises Parts I and II, together with an introduction and conclusion, in addition to four appendices. Adopting a feminist research approach and attention to indigenous methodologies as points of departure, Part I provides a critical overview of relevant and intersecting literature on theories of othering and the Western notion of the portrait;it outlines the foundation on which the studied cultural practices were interpreted as practices of relating and attributing. While acknowledging the central role of the photograph as a critical tool of Western visual representation, focus is directed to multi-sensory cultural practices prevalent in non-Western and indigenous cultures. The primary concern of Part II is the role of the mediation of the artworks in postproduction, which draws on material collated during intersubjective field encounters, exhibited across contested sites of representation. Referencing both historically situated and contemporary art and anthropological research practices, alongside their modes of dissemination, Part II critically reflects on contested questions surrounding exhibition and curation, allied to the decolonisation of the anthropological museum.