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Body painting in Tierra del Fuego. The power of images in the uttermost part of the world

Fiore, D; (2002) Body painting in Tierra del Fuego. The power of images in the uttermost part of the world. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis focuses on the study of the production and use of body painting in Tierra del Fuego (southern Patagonia), with the main aim of analysing the socioeconomic, technical and cognitive-visual aspects of the paintings worn by the Selk’nam and Yâmana societies. The analysis is done at intra-society and inter-society levels, examining the two societies comparatively, and also in terms of their interaction. The data on which the research is based have been collected from visual and written records which date from the XVI to the XX centuries. Archaeological materials are also presented and analysed. The theoretical perspective from which the analysis is carried out considers visual productions (e.g. body painting) as social creations which are simultaneously economic, political and ideological, and hence not just symbolic mirrors of situations, but active products through which human agents establish roles and relationships, constructing, reproducing and/or transforming situations. The analysis of the production stage shows the importance of the mechanisms of transmission of knowledge about body painting techniques for their continuity in time. The handling of this knowledge as a source of power and of social division (mainly based on age and gender) is also explained. This points to the existence of social differences within hunter-gatherer societies, based, among other aspects, on the management of body painting materials and techniques and on the socio-economic position of the producers. Finally, the non-neutrality of technique, and the creation of meaning during the production process, are also demonstrated. The study of the uses of body painting focuses on the praxis of wearing and viewing, and includes both visual and contextual analyses, carried out in quantitative and qualitative ways. These analyses show that body painting was worn in a wide range of situations, and that in some of them its layout varied according to the different purposes, the wearers and the intended viewers. They also point a) to the existence of a visual code of non-verbal communication, b) to the construction and expression of contents by combining the paintings with other visual attributes (such as bodily ornaments and decorated objects) and/or verbal information. A visual analysis based on the whole sample of images, regardless of their specific situations of use, shows that social patterns of use also arise beyond these particular contexts. Finally, it is argued that although the Selk’nam and Yâmana body paintings show possible interactions, their layouts mainly mark visual inter-society differences.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Body painting in Tierra del Fuego. The power of images in the uttermost part of the world
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest. Third party copyright material has been removed from the ethesis. Images identifying individuals have been redacted or partially redacted to protect their identity.
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1566743
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