Drawing to Tell Versus Drawing to Intrigue?


  • Michael Renner




The article “Drawing It Out” by Haidy Geismar (2014) in Visual Anthropology Review (Vol. 30, No. 2, pp. 97–113) focused on the use of images in early anthropology. The drawings by Arthur Bernard Deacon (1903–1927), which he made during his field studies in Vanuatu, New Hebrides from 1926 until his sudden death caused by blackwater fever in 1927, are the starting point of Geismar’s inquiry.

The author discusses Deacon’s drawings and infers the potential of drawing as a methodology for anthropology. Deacon was a young PhD candidate who was sent to Vanuatu from the University of Cambridge. It was his intention to continue the studies of the indigenous culture of the New Hebrides at the time, which had been started by the Department of Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. In contrast to his expectations, Deacon found a culture in the process of decay. The subject of his study, the indigenous culture, had been threatened by diseases and cultural influences that settlers, missionaries, and traders imported with them since they landed in the middle of the nineteenth century. Deacon described the impossibility of protecting the indigenous culture and critically reflected on his role as an anthropologist (Geismar 2014, p. 102).