Jasmin Kashanipour is a PhD candidate at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Vienna. She has done ethnographic fieldwork in Tehran and in Vienna in a variety of subjects within the artistic field. Her current research brings together anthropological works on body, performance, artistic practice and visual culture. Her PhD thesis is entitled “Seeing and being seen: An anthropological study with life drawing models”, tracing life models’ perception of body, role identity, and their engagements with the artistic and social field. Methodologically, she is interested in notions of drawing not only as an ethnographic tool but also as an act and a practice within itself.

Résumé de la proposition

Slowing down the ethnographer’s gaze: Drawing as a practice of ethnographic description

Fieldnote: Reflection on life drawing sessions

… It was as if I were in trance. Not looking at anybody, as if there were no other participants in the room but only the life model, my drawing materials, and me. My eyes were constantly moving from the life model to the paper and from the paper back to the life model. I was fascinated by learning and experiencing the process of translating bodies from a three-dimensional world into two-dimensional drawings. It filled me with great and constant diligence and concentration. Months later while sorting the many drawings of mine at home on the floor, I was looking at them, seeing bodies, and suddenly seeing “people” with missing life stories … I recognized I did not know anything about the life models as living persons that I had been drawing over the last months. I did not “see” them. Who were they? … What kind of “seeing” did I experience during the drawing sessions when I saw and did not see at the same time? …

Indeed, it was the act of drawing which opened me the gate to an anthropological study with life drawing models. While drawing I objectified the models whereas when sorting my drawings I discovered the unknown dimension of the subject. It became clear to me that unlike artists, life models have rarely been asked to explain their work[1]. Artists act and life models appear. Posing nude in life drawing classes, their bodies are likely drawing objects of the gaze rather than a human body with a life story. Focusing my attention narrowly on contemporary life drawing models, the study explores how both male and female life models perceive their experiences as they practice their profession. What meaning do life models give to themselves and their work? Being engaged in participant observation, ethnographic drawing, interviewing and conversations with current and former life models, artists, art instructors, art historians, and art theoreticians, questions arose about the ways how socio-cultural and political dynamics shape perceptions of the human body and how life models’ perception of themselves is interwoven with those perceptions.

In anthropology, field notes, photographs and films are common methods of collecting data and generating ethnographical resources. When doing fieldwork, however, I learned the potential of drawing. Drawing during fieldwork provides not only the opportunity to preserve the memory of moments with people, of places, of situations and circumstances at distinct time periods, of conditions and positions in which one finds oneself, but it also opens the horizon for hidden qualities of the field.

In my paper I will address two qualities based on my fieldwork experiences that belong to two different stages; one is the time when the ethnographer carries out the act of drawing and is engaged with developing and forming the image in the present time, the other is when the ethnographer’s drawing can be seen in its final and fixed state and belongs to the existing past.

The paper does not refer to professional artistic drawings in any sense. There is no prerequisite for generating ethnographic sketches for the ethnographer. Instead it is the mimetic quality of the act of drawing itself that strengthens the ethnographer’s eye. Drawing makes one slow and attentive. Its limitation is its advantage at the same time.

Keywords: ethnographic drawing, artistic field, life drawing models, body, mimesis, subjectivity, deceleration of time, slowing down fieldwork’s pace

[1] In the preface (viii) of the following book: Phillips, Sarah R. 2006. Modeling Life: Art Models Speak about Nudity, Sexuality, and the Creative Process. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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