Fred Myers

Fred R. Myers

Silver Professor of Anthropology; Professor of Anthropology

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 Website

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.

Selected Publications

Books and Edited Volumes:

Outstations in the History of Self-Determination. Edited volume with Nicolas Peterson. Canberra: Australian National University Press. In press.

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.


Remembering Yayayi. Directors, Pip Deveson, Fred Myers, Ian Dunlop.

Selected Articles and Book Chapters:

Nd       “History, Memory and the Politics of Self-Determination in an Early Outstation”. In N. Peterson and F. Myers, eds. Outstations in the History of Self-Determination. In press.

2015    “Cultural Anthropology, 1992-1996.” Cultural Anthropology 30, 2:

2015    “Paintings, Publics and Protocols: the Early Paintings from Papunya.” Material Culture Review/ Revue de la Culture Materielle., vol. 79, Spring: 78-91. .

------- and Luke Scholes
2015.   “Powerful Presence: Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri in Presence and in Paint.” In H. Skerritt, ed. No Boundaries: Contemporary Aboriginal Abstract Art from the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection. Nevada Museum of Art. Pp 132-145. Prestel Publishing.

2014    “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. Pp. 351-389.

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 July 2015

Pintupi dialogues: reconstructing memories of art, land and Community through the visual record (Australian Research Council Linkage grant 2010-2013).
 This project began in 2009 and has continued into my upcoming sabbatical year.  (But who is counting?)  I am currently completing work 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. The through line of this project comes to the present in working with the “Purple House,” the Western Desert Dialysis Project which is providing treatment and support for many of the Aboriginal people who have lived through this transition.

marlenepipfredatamnh.jpg(Pip Deveson, Fred Myers and Marlene Nampitjinpa Spencer presenting the film at the Margaret Mead Film Festival, October 2014. Photo credit: April Strickland)

FredAndMarleneAtKintore30th.jpg(Fred Myers and Marlene Nampitjinpa Spencer discussing her memories of Yayayi)

We have used these visual records as the basis for a dialogue with the living Pintupi descendants of those in the film and photographs.  This dialogue shows 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.  In a joint effort – Pip Deveson, Ian Dunlop and I have produced a film that attends to this dialogue, focusing on Marlene Spencer Nampitjinpa's reflections on the film, entitled "Remembering Yayayi."  Marlene’s reflections about herself and her family as they appear in the footage incorporate points of view from several other Pintupi consultants about the earlier film footage and the outstation. Remembering Yayayi has been screened at the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival at the American Museum of Natural History in October 2014, at the National Museum of Australia in April 2015, at the RAI Ethnographic Film Festival in Briston in June 2015 and will be shown at the NAFA Film Festival in Warsaw in September 2015 and at the Jean Rouch International Film Festival at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris in November 2015.  Pip has also edited another film, Marlene’s Story, that follows Marlene’s narrative of her life from being “born in the bush” outside of Anglo-Australian contact through to her current role as a spokesperson for the Western Desert Dialysis Project.  A crucial connection we have made in the course of this project is with the concern about Aboriginal health and renal disease in Central Australia, and we hope to use screenings of the film to help draw support for the extraordinary, award-winning Aboriginal NGO – brought into being through Pintupi  initiative -- to bring dialysis to remote communities.

As another 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.

A third part of the project was a workshop held at the Australian National University in Canberra in December 2013 on the history of early “outstations,” the small breakaway communities established in the period of “Aboriginal self-determination.”  My colleague at ANU Nicolas Peterson and I are editing a collection of essays presented at this conference and written by a range of people who were “witnesses” or participants in these early communities and whose story and aspirations have not been well understood in the current Australian policy regime.  Provisionally titled Experiments in Self-Determination:  Histories of the Early Outstation Movement in Australia.

Australian Cultural Fields: National and Transnational Dynamics Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP140101970) – 2014-2016 I am part of another group project in Australia, funded by the Australian Research Council and directed by Professor Tony Bennett of the University of Western Sydney, that is beginning to collect data. "Australian Cultural Fields" examines the forces changing contemporary Australian culture. Focusing on art, literature, media, sport, music and heritage, it assesses the influence of transnationalism, digital media, migration and multiculturalism, and the distinctive presence of Indigenous culture, on the relations between culture, class, gender, ethnicity and nation.  Members of the project have developed an extensive survey instrument of taste and cultural consumption that is being administered this year.  The concept of ‘cultural field’ is taken from the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who developed the idea to investigate how the production and consumption of culture are affected by relations between cultural institutions, policy agencies, and cultural markets. Australian Cultural Fields will develop this perspective in number of ways. It will be the first study to examine transnational forces, new information technologies and the changing salience of migrant and Indigenous cultures in the contemporary Australian context. Internationally, it will be the first large-scale study to interrogate the relations between the fields of cultural production and consumption. It is a challenge for me to work with new methodologies and kinds of information.  I hope to be undertaking some interviews for the study of the field of visual arts in Australia later this year and Tim Rowse, Franchesca Cubillo and I are planning a workshop on Indigeneity across the cultural fields in July 2016.

Engaging the global legacy and impact of the Aboriginal Artists Agency.  Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP150104389 – 2015-2017).  Aaron Corn, Howard Morphy and I are partners in a what is now a third ARC Research grant, this one is aimed at assessing and organizing the collection of documents and interviewing those involved with the Aboriginal Artists Agency- the first national body to administer copyrights for indigenous artists, to create international demand for Australian culture and pioneer ways for Indigenous artists to reach audiences and markets worldwide.  This project extends the previous research histories on cultural production and circulation that all three of us have been doing and our own engagements with Aboriginal Artists Agency.  This project is in its early stages.

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