Debate Magazine

Perspectival “Costumes” and “Art”

By Cris

While searching Google’s gigantic photo cache, I came across this startling and beautiful image:

In this past I would have looked at this in a rather shallow way: through an “exotic” lens that completely fails to capture the ideas and transformations that this “costume” surely entails. Though I haven’t been able to identify the cultural context or source for this photo, it was archived under “animist.” If we assume an animist worldview is indeed being expressed, as seems likely, the person in this photo is no longer human but has become a non-human person (or what we would call an animal). Her perspective has been entirely altered so that she now sees the world through “animal” eyes, yet retains her human characteristics.

When attempting to source the image, I came across this rock painting on the Dogon escarpment in Mali:


If we again assume that this is expressive of an animist worldview, this is not simply “art.” Whatever this represents, “it” is doing something — the image is not simply painted on the rock face. It is something interacting with the rock face, which may actually be conceived as a membrane. Whereas we (westerners or materialists) think of rock as being hard and impermeable, animists think of it as being something permeable and potentially alive. Before the hard-headed among us scoff at the idea, let’s pause to consider that rock is, at an atomic level, moving and permeable.

The Dogon and scientists may have different inferential ideas about the kind of energy that flows in, through, or around rock, but flow it does.

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