Anthropology of art

Course Dates: 14/01/19 - 18/03/19
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: KS - Keeley Street
Tutor: Yasmin Hales

This introductory course aims to critically explore the role and symbolic meaning of art from a cross-cultural

perspective, ranging from the concept of beauty, the beliefs and rituals associated with material objects, to the human body as canvas and the role of museums.


What is the course about?

The Anthropology of Art overlaps with art history, aesthetics, material culture studies, and visual anthropology. On this introductory course we shall critically explore the role and meaning of masks, paintings, photography, museums, tourist and street art, and the human body. Some of the questions we discuss are “Is there a universal concept of beauty or an indigenous aesthetic? Why do different cultures decorate their walls and floors on different ways? Is the human body increasingly seen as a visual canvas? What is the role of museums and ethnographic collections”. We address how an anthropological approach to art is distinguished by a global and local understanding, and the social relationships involved in the making of art objects. How does a culture produce different art styles and to what extent does the value of art change when transported cross culturally? By analysing 19thc colonial and contemporary ethnographic photographs and the role of fieldwork, an understanding of the parallels and perspectives of how anthropologists and photographers equally step inside and outside society is revealed On a practical level students will additionally analyse the form and function of objects and the status of artists in the community through role play and handling visual material. This course concludes with a museum visit.

What will we cover?

• What is the Anthropology of Art?
• Anthropology of the body, tattooing, scarification, hair and skin.
• 20thc tribal art influences on Picasso and Matisse
• Anthropology of the line- Aboriginal dreamtime and land art
• Anthropology of Art and the Senses
• Anthropology of colonial and contemporary ethnographic photography
• The ritual and cultural decoration of domestic walls and floors.
• The role of museums and ethnographic collections
• Museum or exhibition visit relating to the course.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Students will have gained knowledge and an understanding of the key theorists, concepts and debates relating to
• the anthropology of art.
• Evaluate key anthropology theories and develop critical analysis relating to the anthropology of art and its
• significance in human society
• Demonstrate an understanding of anthropological methods and practice in relation to our material world
• Develop an academic, personal and professional understanding of the anthropology of art through role play, class
• discussions and debate.
• Apply an ethnographic appreciation to a variety of cross cultural values and beliefs relating to anthropology of art and the visual image, through practical handling of material art objects, photographic material and a museum visit.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This is an introductory course that requires no prior experience of anthropology. Your enjoyment will be enhanced if you approach this course with an open and critical mind and a curiosity for learning. You will benefit from reading and commenting upon the anthropology texts distributed in class and be prepared to discuss with your peers. As anthropologists seek to raise awareness of the cross-cultural difference of human behaviour, overall you should be willing to re-evaluate your own understanding, perceptions and assumptions of art from cultures different to your own.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The Anthropology of Art course will comprise of talks, individual and group work, handling photographs and art objects, observing ethnographic films, seminar discussions and optional student presentations. There will also be a class visit to an art exhibition or gallery that complements the course content
Tutor biography:
Yasmin completed a BA (Hons) in Social Anthropology and an MA in the History of South Asian Art and Architecture which complemented her professional role as a museum educator and curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Her research interest in the social use of space, indigenous art and architecture was consolidated through ethnographic fieldwork in India, and latterly an interdisciplinary doctorate research degree in the Anthropology of Architecture at UCL and Oxford Brookes University. Yasmin has taught a variety of Social Anthropology modules at Birkbeck and UAL, and is currently based at Build and Goldsmiths University. Yasmin recently curated a multicultural community exhibition at the Harrow Arts Centre called the ‘Talking Streets’, to explore why different cultures decorate their walls and floors in different ways. She delivers a variety of successful community art workshops and is a freelance anthropology consultant and curator.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No compulsory costs. Please bring writing tools for class work, a pen and paper or electronic equivalent. You will also be asked to bring in an object of art you may have collected whilst travelling, bought in a market or a family item to discuss in class.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

The Anthropology of Space, Place and the Landscape
Course Code: HA007.

General information and advice on courses at Build is available from the Student Centre and Library on Monday to Friday from 12:00 – 19:00.
See the course guide for term dates and further details


Customer Reviews 2 item(s)

Write a review
I studied a Visual Anthropology course in April 2018.

I found the experience to be most rewarding. The choice of teaching methods using ethnographic documentary films and photography was excellent.

The tutor lectured with clarity and communicated complex ideas most effectively. I was intellectually stimulated throughout the term and introduced to stimulating readings and interesting debates and exercises!
Great group visit to “Another Kind of Life” photo exhibition at the Barbican

Course Rating
Review by Nilofar / (Posted on 11/12/2018)
The anthropology of Art course was very stimulating - it turned out to be the highlight of my week! I had not studied anthropology before, but the course gave me a substantial introduction to some anthropological concepts, including some art historical context, such as early anthropologists classification of what constitutes an art work. We had sessions on masks, tattoos and other body art, the influence of tribal art on modern artists such as Picasso, and the meanings of Aboriginal art. We had some fascinating class discussions and workshops, saw anthropology film clips, and analysed some of our cultural artefacts brought from travels overseas. Our very friendly, knowledgeable and hard-working teacher provided us with a generous amount of visual and written handouts and suggestions for further reading. The final session was a British Museum gallery visit, complemented by an interesting experience in the the Anthropology library. Which we all hugely enjoyed over a cup of tea! I have learned to 'read' art and artefacts much more intelligently, since I became aware of all the museum poetics and politics of acquistion and display. This Anthropology of Art course has expanded my mind and my humanity.
Course Rating
Review by Janice Emmott June 2018 / (Posted on 18/06/2018)

This course has now finished

Course Code: HA005

Finished Mon, day, 14 Jan - 18 Mar '19

Duration: 10 sessions (over 10 weeks)

Full fee: £169.00
Senior fee: £135.00
Concession: £74.00

Please note: we offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. For more information visit our online . You can also visit the Information, Advice and Guidance drop-in service, open from 12 – 6.45, Monday to Friday.