Archaeology and Contemporary Performance in the Desert Southwest

This project will constitute a history of the people of the Southwest through their public expressions in the bodily arts. The subject of this research is performance in the Southwest in the prehistoric, ethnohistoric, and contemporary periods. A cultural chronology of self-representation will emerge. This conception will be paired with each eras’ host political context. There exist two assemblages of performances from the Native American Southwest that I propose to link. On assemblage is constituted by prehistoric iconography, ritual collections, and ceremonial architecture. The second is contemporary ritual drama and cinema.

Archaeological Performance

I search prehistoric iconography and architecture in order to approximate embodiment and corporeal movement. Information on prehistoric performance can be gathered from analysis of figurines, pictographs, or ceramics depicting the human form in ritual accouterment, communal gatherings, procession, or dance. A review of archaeological site syntheses, artifact analysis, and architectural surveys is rewarding. This study requires a detailed scanning of litanies of archaeological materials excavated from prehistoric ceremonial sites in the traditional Southwest. I will be looking for remnant materials that were used in public performance. This could mean musical instruments, sculpture, and ritual assemblages. I will also analyze architectural surveys of performative spaces such as great kivas and pueblo public places. From this study emerges an approximation of the performative space and ambience and the built environs and music of the prehistoric performance. 

Performance Archaeology

This study requires recognizing traditional iconographical concepts in contemporary indigenous ritual, drama, and performance.

In indigenous contexts, performance may be a conflation of dance, theater, oration, ritual, and individual style. By performance, I am referring to all movement-centered public and symbolic actions. I am interested in the anthropology of the performing arts, the role of performance in Puebloan culture, the relationship between audience and performer, and historical narratives and forms in contemporary performance.

The first year of research will entail a comprehensive review of archaeological and ethnographic literature and theories of cinema, performance, historiography, and indigenous media. In the second year, resident research will begin by studying performance in the Southwest.

The ethnographic study of public performance will be complemented by cinema. This can include documentaries, recorded traditional activities and oral narratives, and hypertexts. The cinema survey will recognize traditional performative themes, references to the past or the body, and the punctum of material culture and architecture. Observations of corporeality drafted from the cinematic survey will be contrasted with archaeological observations.

Archaeology and Contemporary Performance in the Southwest explores the nascent field of indigenous historiographical media. This research will focus on prehistoric and contemporary public performances that were institutional, historical, and narrative. Movements that gesture to landscapes and past events will be noted. Examples may range from digital indigenous media to traditional oral performance. This study will contextualize the circuit between the performer and audience as well as the topography of the body-as-landscape. Performance is a social, spatial, and experiential phenomena; an expression of resistance, solidarity, ecstasy, and individuality. This is a study of how traditional forms and narratives are interpreted, recycled, and distributed by contemporary medias. As a cultural producer, I will reflexively film representative samples of all phases of research, interviews, performance participations, and archaeological site visitations.

I am interested in the history of Southwestern performance for these reasons: they have living and vibrant artists and historians; active tribally administered historic preservation programs; an indigenous archaeology community; and descendents whose historical traditions were non-textual and performance based. Their tribal historic preservation advocacy programs are comparatively mature, the ethnographic and archaeological materials particularly abundant, and their performance traditions ornate. Most importantly, for centuries they have been creatively incorporating new technologies and are currently exploring digital medias, film production, and synchretic performance. A history of performance traditions from the Southwest will exhibit how historical materials travel through the body and time to others in community.

Rhetorical questions exist. In what manner is the “archaeological” reproduced by indigenous historiographers and performers? In what ways are traditional oral histories, dance, song, public ritual, or history informing multimedia? I seek knowledge on how contemporary indigenous artists have written and performed the body and historical content. What traditional content can be assimilated by multimedia? What is the nature of the role of history in a public consciousness? I wonder in what manner are historical concerns corporeally known and publically expressed. What historical content constitutes the space between the audience and the performers?

I am committed to a reconciliation of the anthropological sciences’ tendencies to maximize or minimize certain aspects of corporeality and the performative. I will analyze the body as an agent and structure, as rational and imaginative, predetermined and symbolic, politically manipulated and sensually experienced.