Sept 24, 2014

"Authentic is as Authentic does: The trope of authenticity and I La Galigo"

Sharyn Graham Davies, Auckland University of Technology

In 2010, La Galigo, a Bugis mythological epic describing the founding of the human world, was included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World register. This accolade again brought La Galigo into the international spotlight, something that had previously occurred when Robert Wilson’s stage play, based on this epic, d├ębuted in Singapore in 2004. Wilson’s production received acclaim and critique, with reviews primarily focusing on Wilson’s ability to achieve an authentic representation of Bugis identity and their envisaged past. That authenticity became a central measure of the production’s success presupposes that there is an authentic Bugis identity and past that can be publicly recreated. In this article I use reviews of Wilson’s production as a site for the analysis of authenticity. What the talks shows is that for many people, cultural authenticity is achievable and of critical importance in underpinning any sense of a unified and singular ethnic identity. Yet, as the talk reveals, for others, identity is always already a mix of different global influences and as such authenticity is either irrelevant, or liberated from a sense of a singular heritage. In framing this analysis I draw on the work of key theorists of authenticity, including recent work by Banks, Lindholm, and Theodossopoulos to explore how authenticity resonates in Indonesia.

Sharyn Graham Davies
As an anthropologist and Asian Studies scholar with an outstanding research record, Assoc Prof Davies’ research forms part of a number of key debates appearing in leading journals and academic monographs. Her most significant contribution to the field of Indonesian studies revolves around rethinking ways in which gender operates in the Indonesian archipelago. Assoc Prof Davies’ has published two landmark monographs on this topic. One text is a theoretical exploration of gender and sexuality and the other is an ethnographic case study on the ways in which individuals negotiate gendered selves from adolescence onwards. Both of these texts are used as essential reading in a number of universities internationally, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Both books have been favorably reviewed, the latest being in the 115th edition of American Anthropologist, which lauded Assoc Prof Davies’ as one of three leading worldwide experts in the study of gender and sexuality in Indonesia. Professor Tom Boellstorff, recent editor of American Anthropologist, has noted that ‘Gender Diversity in Indonesia is a landmark work that combines careful ethnographic research with cutting-edge gender theory.’ Assoc Prof Davies’ most recent publication on gender and sexuality is the coedited book Sex and Sexualities in Indonesia: Sexual Politics, Diversity, Representations and Health, published in the Routledge series ‘Sexuality, Culture and Health’.

Many of Assoc Prof Davies’ research outputs have been in formats other than publications. The most influential of these is her engagement with multimedia sources. National Geographic has selected Assoc Prof Davies’ work on gender as the subject of a number of documentary films. The two most cited documentaries, Taboo: The Third Sex, and Sex, Lies, and Gender have screened repeatedly and are available free to view through YouTube. In addition to National Geographic, Assoc Prof Davies’ has consulted with the BBC, Viewpoint Productions, and Global Genders, among others, to disseminate notions of gender that rework many commonly held assumptions. Assoc Prof Davies’ is also committed to teaching excellence and in 2010 she was co-recipient of an AUT Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2014 and 2015, Assoc Prof Davies’ will be travelling to the US on a Fulbright, followed by four months at Cambridge University on a Leverhulme fellowship.


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