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Title: In the Image of...: Looking at Visual Representations of the Iban People of Sarawak, Malaysia
Keywords: Iban, Sarawak, Malaysia, Visual Representations, Tourism, Identity
Issue Date: 19-Aug-2009
Citation: TAN GHEE GAY, DANNY (2009-08-19). In the Image of...: Looking at Visual Representations of the Iban People of Sarawak, Malaysia. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: From explorers' writings late last century to contemporary tourism publications promoting Sarawak, the Iban people have been the focus of more than a century of academic and non-academic scrutiny. These descriptions are often accompanied by visual representations - as drawings and, more commonly, photographs - of the Iban. However, these images have never been seriously studied within an academic framework. In my research, I analyse these images through the contextual lenses of three periods: 'colonial', 'independence', and 'contemporary'. I find that the politics of visual representations of the Iban in colonial times was largely similar to those of other colonised indigenous peoples around the world. I show that these colonial visual stereotypes of 'Iban man as warrior' and 'Iban woman as erotica' were also largely unchanged during Malaysia's independence. Unlike the past, however, the contemporary Iban show agency as they co-opt these usually negative visual stereotypes to their own advantage as they grapple with an ethnic identity that straddles the past and present. Reflecting on the legacy of such enduring visual representations, I discuss the extent to which they indicate that Iban culture - specifically their readily identifiable 'tribal' representations - is being utilised by the State as a tourism icon. More inwardly, I speculate if the State is creating a niche for Iban culture in the tradition of a Furnivallian pluralistic society. In general, my research shows that an analysis of visual representations can fill a significant gap in our understanding of the Iban people.
Appears in Collections:Ph.D Theses (Open)

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