Fred Myers

Fred R. Myers

Silver Professor of Anthropology; Acting Chair, East Asian Studies
Ph.D. 1976, M.A. 1972, Bryn Mawr, B.A. 1970, Amherst.

Office Address: Rufus D. Smith Hall 25 Waverly Place New York, NY 10003
Phone: 212-998-8555
Fax: 212-995-4014
Personal Homepage

Curriculum Vitae

Areas of Research/Interest

Indigenous people and politics, Aboriginal Australia; exchange theory and material culture; anthropology of art and contemporary artworlds; the production and circulation of culture; in identity and personhood; theories of value and practices of signification.


Books and Edited Volumes:
Painting Culture: The Making of an Aboriginal High Art. Durham: Duke University Press. 2002

The Empire of Things: Regimes of Value and Material Culture
. Edited volume. Santa Fe: SAR Press. 2001

The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Anthropology and Art. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1995

 Pintupi Country, Pintupi Self: Sentiment, Place, and Politics among Western Desert Aborigines
. Smithsonian Institution Press, Wash., D.C. (reprinted in paperback by University of California Press, 1991) 1986.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters:

    In press    “Showing Too Much or Too Little:  Predicaments of Painting Indigenous Presence in Central Australia.”  In Glenn Penny and Laura Graham, eds.  Performing Indigeneity.  University of Nebraska Press.

   2013    “Disturbances in the Field:  Exhibiting Aboriginal Art in the US.”  Special Issue,  Journal of Sociology.  vol. 43 (2-3): 151-172
   2013    “Emplacement and Displacement:  Perceiving the Landscape through Aboriginal Australian Acrylic Painting.” Ethnos 78, 4: 
   2012    “Censorship from Below: Aboriginal Art in Australian Museums.  In T. Berman, ed. No Deal:  Indigenous Arts and The Politics of Possession.  Santa Fe:  School of Advanced Research.  

   2011    “ Translating Indigenous Protocol.” In P. Batty and J. Ryan, eds.  Tjukurrtjanu.  National Gallery of Victoria.  Pp. ix-xi.

   2011    “Intrigue of the Archive, Enigma of the Object.”  In P. Batty and J. Ryan, eds.  Tjukurrtjanu.  National Gallery of Victoria.  Pp 29-42.

   2011    “Fathers and Sons, Trajectories of the Self:  Reflections on Pintupi Lives and Futures.  In Ute Eickelkamp and Pauline Fietz, eds. Growing Up in Central Australia: New Anthropological Studies of Aboriginal Childhood and Adolescence. Berghahn Books, Oxford.  Pp  82-100.

   2010    “What Did Paintings Want? – Pintupi Painting at Yayayi in the 1970s.”  In Kasper Konig, W. Falk and E. Evans, ed.  Remember Forward.  Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Pp. 136-145.

  2010     “All Around Australia and Overseas:  Christianity and Indigenous Identities in Central Australia 1988.  For Special issue of The Australian Journal of Anthropology, edited by F. Dussart and C. Schwarz, In Dialogue with Christianities. Volume 21: 110-128.

  2009     “The Power of Papunya Painting.”  Aboriginal Art Magazine, volume 1, no. 1: 40-45.

  2009     “Graceful Transfigurations of Person, Place and Story: The Stylistic Evolution of Shorty Lungkarta Tjungurrayi.”  In Roger Benjamin, ed.  Icons of the Desert.  Ithaca:  Cornell University Press.  Pp.  51-64.  

  2008     Comment on Michael Brown, “Cultural Relativism 2.0,” Current Anthropology vol 49: 376-377.

  2007     “A Day in the Life:  Painting at Yayayi 1974”. In Vivien Johnson, ed.  Papunya Painting; Out of the Desert. Canberra:  National Museum of Australia.  5 pages.

------- in collaboration with Jeremy Long
  2007   “In Recognition:  The Gift of Painting.”  In Hetti Perkins, ed. One Sun, One Moon: Aboriginal Art in Australia.  Sydney:  Art Gallery of New South Wales.  Pp. 171-180.

  2006     "The Complicity of Cultural Production:  The Contingencies of Performance in Globalizing Museum Practices." In Ivan Karp and Corinne Kratz, eds.  Museum Frictions.  Duke University Press.  Pp 505-536. 2006.
  2006    “We Are Not Alone: Anthropology in a World of Others.”  Invited essay, Key Informants in the History of Anthropology.  Ethnos 71 (2): 233-264.

------- and Faye Ginsburg
  2006    “A History of Aboriginal Futures.” Critique of Anthropology. 26 (1):  27-45.  

  2006    “’Primitivism,’ Anthropology and the Category of ‘Primitive Art’.”  In Handbook of Material Culture.  Chris Tilley, Susanne Kuechler, Michael Rowlands, Webb Keane and Patricia Spyer, eds. Sage Press.  Pp 267-284,

  2006    “Collecting Aboriginal Art in the Australian Nation-state:  Two Case Studies.” Visual Anthropology Review, Vol 21, 1 and 2:  116-137.

  2004    “Ontologies Of The Image And Economies Of Exchange.” American Ethnologist,
February, volume 31 (1):  1-16.

  2000    “Ways of Placemaking.” In Howard Morphy and Katherine Flynt, eds.  Culture, Landscape, and the Environment.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.  Pps. 72-110.

  1999    "Aesthetics and Practice: A Local Art History of Pintupi Painting." In H. Morphy and M. Boles, eds. The Art of Place: Dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

  1994    "Culture-Making:  Performing Aboriginality in the Asia Society Gallery." American Ethnologist 21(4) 679-699.

  1991    "Representing Culture:  The Production of Discourse(s) for Aboriginal Acrylic Paintings."  Cultural Anthropology, 6 (1):26-62.  (reprinted in Rereading Cultural Anthropology, G. Marcus, ed. Durham:  Duke University Press. 1992 and in The Traffic in Culture, Marcus and Myers, eds)

  1988    "Locating Ethnographic Practice: Romance, Reality, and Politics in the Outback." American Ethnologist, 15: 609-24. 1988.

  1988    “Burning the Truck and Holding the Country: Forms of Property, Time, and the Negotiation of Identity among Pintupi Aborigines." In T. Ingold, D. Riches, and J. Woodburn (eds), Hunter- Gatherers, II: Property, Power and Ideology. London: Berg Publishing. (longer version [In] E. Wilmsen, ed., We Are Here. Berkeley: University of California Press.) 1988.

  1986 "Reflections on a meeting: Structure, language, and the polity in a small-scale society," American Ethnologist, 13: 431-447.  

  1985    "Illusion and Reality:  Aboriginal Self-Determination in Central Australia."  In C. Schrire and R. Gordon, eds., The Future of Former Foragers.  Cambridge:  Cultural Survival. pp 109-121

------ and Donald Brenneis
  1984    "Introduction:  Language and Politics in the Pacific."  In D. Brenneis and F. Myers, eds., Dangerous Words.

  1982    "Always Ask:  Resource Use and Landownership among the Pintupi of Central Australia."  In N. Williams and E. Hunn, eds., Resource Managers:  North American and Australian Hunter-Gatherers. Boulder:  Westview Press.  (republished by Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. 1986)

  1982    " Ideology and Experience:  the Cultural Basis of Pintupi Politics."  In M. Howard, ed., Aboriginal Power in Australian Society).  Brisbane:  University of Queensland Press.  Pp. 108-52.

  1979    "Emotions and the Self:  A Theory of Personhood and Political Order among the Pintupi," Ethos, 7: 343-70.

Current News / Projects
Updated March 2013

Pintupi dialogues: reconstructing memories of art, land and Community through the visual record
 (Australian Research Council Linkage grant 2010-2013).

    I am currently working on an ARC Linkage grant to use visual records to animate historical consciousness with the Pintupi communities of Kintore, NT and Kiwirrkura, WA.  This involves not only returning to my earliest work in Pintupi communities, but also extending my involvement with visual culture, representations, and art.  The grant is a collaboration with the mainly Pintupi Aboriginal-owned art cooperative, Papunya Tula Artists Ltd., Dr. Peter Thorley of the National Museum of Australia, and Professor Nicolas Peterson and Ms. Philippa Deveson of the Australian National University, Dr Peter Thorley of the National Museum of Australia, and myself of New York University. Together with the members of these two remote Western Desert communities, we are using film and photography to reflect on a pivotal period in the history of the Pintupi people with whom I have been working since 1973.  In 1964, internationally renowned filmmaker, Ian Dunlop accompanying then Patrol Officer Jeremy Long, had photographed Pintupi people as among the last Aboriginal people still living a nomadic life in central Australia's western desert. He returned in 1974 to film these same people, now living at the government-supported Yayayi outstation where I was carrying out my doctoral fieldwork.
  People like the Pintupi were once referred to as “People without History.” Such a view emphasizes the difficulty of creating a history when they have no written records of their own. This is  culturally compounded by the lack of any notion of a “chronological career” or “biographical narrative” among many remote Aboriginal people. Rather, Pintupi lives and past events are encompassed and narrated in a rich array of contextually elicited or triggered stories about particular episodes and events. This leads to episodic accounts of the past that obscure the persistence of motivations, the long-term commitment to particular courses of action and the ways people have consistently worked towards specific goals, making their lives seem fragmented, reactive and lacking in clear direction. However, with a layered dialogic approach, incorporating multiple perspectives, we are working collaboratively to overcome these difficulties and trying to create a nuanced and evidence-based narrative account of intent and purpose that can bridge this cultural difference in historical consciousness.
  Pintupi Dialogues is built around a unique research resource that we think is well suited to the cultural specificities of the Pintupi historical consciousness:
- thirteen hours of raw synchronous sound film, shot by internationally renowned ethnographic filmmaker Ian Dunlop at the Pintupi outstation of Yayayi in 1974, and
- over 600 still photographs, taken by Dunlop in 1964 of some of the same people, and their parents, when they were living a completely independent traditional life “beyond the frontier.”
    Using these visual records as the basis for a dialogue with the living Pintupi descendants of those in the film and photographs,  we are reconstructing an account of how the Pintupi sought to fashion their own modernity, with a particular emphasis on the great transition – sedentarization and incorporation into the Australian state -- in their lives that took place in the 1960s and 1970s.  As a distinct part of this, I am writing a book on the early period of Pintupi living in this remote outstation community, significant as one of the first outstation or homeland communities established within the then-new policy framework of “Aboriginal self-determination” articulated by the Whitlam government upon its election in 1973.  The policies of “self-determination” – an expression of international as well as local aspirations for colonized people -- have in recent years been heavily criticized by conservatives in Australia as a failure and a significant cause of the many problems that continue to plague Indigenous Australia.  My goal in writing this book is to confront these representations with an historically nuanced account of life and the imaginings of a future in such a community.
  Such a history is also important to the Pintupi, faced as they are with a burgeoning young population and the rapid disappearance of people who have knowledge of this transition. It will help the younger generation understand what those making the transition struggled for, and how against seemingly insuperable odds, they first got their own outstation at Yayayi, eventually leading to their own towns of Kintore and Kiwirrkura in the remoteness of the western desert. Not only was this a struggle for self-determination but it was also a crucial period when they came to terms with the cash economy by becoming
involved in the Papunya Tula art movement. For the project team the history is important for an additional reason: it will be a gateway to examining the origins and development of self-determination as manifested in the outstation movement and the moral and humanitarian concerns behind government policy as it sought a mutual accommodation with Pintupi people.  For the Pintupi communities, working with the National Museum of Australia provides them with an institution in which they can hope to archive their history and heritage for themselves and their descendants but also to be recognized as significant participants in Australia’s history.

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