Recycled…Reseen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap

“Renowned early-twentieth century anthropologist Michael Leahy encountered a Wabag man from Papua New Guinea wearing an aluminum whole wheat biscuit tin on his head. In the symbol system of this culture, large, bright, and shiny ornaments are connote health, well-being, sexual attractiveness, and the approval of the ancestors.

Centuries earlier, when Cortés and his troops discovered hoards of gold ornaments in Mexico, they confiscated these objects of sacred and royal art for themselves. We can be sure that they did not do this because of their admiration for the workmanship or their desire to appropriate the charisma of Aztec culture. In fact, they showed a hearty disrespect for the value placed on these objects by their previous owners, and in melting them down for coinage; Cortés and his compatriots were simply recycling material from one cultural construct into another. The Aztecs would not have thought this to be an improvement; for one thing, their gold was not discarded trash.

Nevertheless, there are instructive similarities between recycling Aztec gold and recycling industrial trash. When a New Guinean wears a head ornament incorporating a mackerel tin label, and a Maasai uses a blue plastic pen cap in an armband, they are showing a similar unconcern for the meaning of these objects in the source culture. They are deconstructing the objects into elements of form, colour and material and giving them meaning in their own object language. This is intercultural recycling.

Like collage in art or quotation in literature, the recycled object carries a kind of “memory” of its prior existence. Recycling always implies a stance toward time –between the past and the present- and often a prospective on cultures –one’s own and others.”

From the book ‘Recycled, Re-Seen: Folk Art from the Global Scrap Heap’

PS. I was luck to do my MA internship at Drap-Art (Barcelona) back in 2010. Thanks to Tanja Grass, I learned a lot about the theme and had access to wonderful books like this one.

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