Exhibition documents anthropology's focus on emerging worlds

Cambodian cigarette pack
Anthropology professor Anna Tsing came across a discarded Cambodian cigarette pack in the course of her research in an Oregon forest.
Cambodian cigarette pack on exhibit
Tsing explains the pack's significance in the "Emerging Worlds" exhibition now open at the Porter Sesnon Gallery.
Broken compass
A broken compass similar to one a Dutch patrol officer used in Papua New Guinea. 
Broken compass on exhibit
Anthropology department chair Danilyn Rutherford explains how, in addition to the compass, the officer needed local navigational customs to find his way.
Traffic barrier
Mayanthi Fernando, assistant professor of anthropology, selected a traffic barrier from Paris to document a practice of allowing Arab and African muslims to pray in the street outside a mosque.

"Emerging Worlds," a new faculty exhibition now open at Porter Sesnon Gallery on the UC Santa Cruz campus, documents and illustrates the research theme of UCSC's anthropology department.  Each anthropology faculty member has selected a single item encountered and salvaged during their research. Accompanying the item is a 200-world explanation of how it figures in an emerging world. 

The exhibition is open to the public through May 5. A campus opening reception is set for Wednesday, April 11 from 3:30-5 p.m. The gallery is on the second floor of the Porter Faculty Gallery at Porter College and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays from noon to 8 p.m.

Anthropology at UCSC looks at how worlds come into being, whether thousands of years ago or in the present. Researchers seek to uncover and understand new civilizations and societies that are emerging from the dynamic changes in global transportation, immigration, communication, and political organization. 

For instance, Professor Anna Tsing has selected a discarded cigarette pack from Cambodia that she found in an Oregon forest. At the time, Tsing was following Southeast Asian American mushroom hunters from California who harvest the matsutake mushroom, a prized delicacy in Japan.

"I picked it up, because it opened up a world for me," Tsing recalled. "I was learning with an object and navigating around a strange place." Tsing said that when she ran across the cigarette pack for a second time she knew she was no longer lost in the forest "because the pack showed me the way."

Department chair Danilyn Rutherford chose a broken compass from her studies in Papua New Guinea. The compass resembles one that belonged to a Dutch patrol officer who was surprised that he also required traditional native methods of navigation.

Other items include a 1,900-year-old bone with evidence of metal tool use submitted by professor Diane Gifford-Gonzalez, and a traffic barrier, selected by assistant professor Mayanthi Fernando. The barriers are erected each Friday to facilitate street prayer by hundreds of Arab and African men unable to fit inside two Paris mosques, Fernando explains.

The exhibition brings together the department's cultural anthropologists as well as archaeologists, Rutherford said. "It got us all in conversation about what we do."

Rutherford joined UCSC two years ago from the University of Chicago to lead the anthropology department. She brought with her the emerging world theme.  "Emerging worlds are happening all the time," she explains.  

Tsing brought the exhibition idea back with her from the University of Copenhagen where she spent some time as part of a Guggenheim Fellowship to further her mushroom-gathering research. The Waterworlds research group there had organized an exhibit to document their research into climate change. One researcher submitted a life jacket from Sri Lanka to discuss the effects of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Undergraduates in the departments of art, history of art and visual culture, and film and digital media helped curate, design, and make the exhibits, and are documenting it.

A second public reception is scheduled for Saturday, April 28 during Alumni Reunion Weekend.