From Tiki to Tribal: My Introduction to Ethnographic Art
Jun 27th, 2012
This entry is to explain a bit about my interest in Ethnographic material. Several years ago I collected souvenirs of the mid Twentieth Century's fascination with the Tiki culture. This was originally brought to life because of the returning G.I.s that had been stationed in the South Pacific during World War Two. I sold old Tiki Mugs, Menus, and Hawaiian shirts in our store that was dedicated to 50s Kitsch and vintage toys but somewhere along the way I found two books, The Arts of the South Seas by Ralph Linton & Paul Wingert and The Art of the South Pacific Islands by Alfred Buhler. After flipping through both of these classic books I started to lose interest in the Tiki Mugs, Tourist Masks, Tiki Swizzle Sticks, Lava Figures, and Menu Covers as I became more fascinated with what was actually behind the images that were being reproduced as kitsch. I took home two small curious wooden figures that had been in my shop for some time as well as the two books.
As I sold more Moai Mugs and Martin Denny LPs I bought more books about Oceanic Art. Eventually I ended up at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California where I purchased an issue of the World of Tribal Arts Magazine. Inside the issue I was overloaded with color photographs and current articles about ethnographic material. I immediately subscribed, and in the summer of 2002 along came an issue with an article by Barbara Wavell titled From Sacred to Souvenir - The Squatting Figure as a Motif in Micronesian Art. I instantly recognized the two figures that I had taken home from my store earlier, and have been collecting them ever since.
Over time I have been steadily collecting Oceanic and Philippine weapons and artifacts, and via the internet I have bought from, sold to, and traded with what I see as the new generation of Tribal Art collectors. This newer generation mainly collects by way of the Web as opposed to Tribal Art shows which seem to be in decline. These newer collectors like me have come from non traditional areas, whether they are from the Tattoo community, Tiki collectors, or from more traditional backgrounds like Anthropology and Art History as well as world travellers. All of these backgrounds are equal in my eyes due to their appreciation for Tribal and Ethnographic Art.