Fred Wilson's environmental tableaus and displays of "Third World" artifacts use ethnography as a deconstructive method to discuss contemporary issues of ethnocentrism in Western culture. Each display or tableau explores the aestheticization process artifacts are forced through once they are collected and displayed within a museum framework. Among the losses suffered by the artifact, as it enters into a Western ethnographic narrative, is the objects own cultural, personal and political history. These losses imposed upon the collected artifact are symptomatic of our culture's hegemony over others. Fred Wilson's work uses the very language of the dominant culture in order to re-instate the collected object's individual status within the ethnographic setting.
Several prominent sub-texts run throughout Wilson's work. There are displays which question our modes of collecting: A museum case displaying Pre-Columbian artifacts and cocaine paraphernalia comments on our often illegal manner of "importing" artwork to the U.S., equating the objects to contraband and the drive to collect to drug addiction. Partly crushed Assyrian Stelae from Iraq coupled with African Urns engage in a similar investigation but on more immediate terms; accompanying labels attribute their acquisition to 1991. The loss of the personal, which is always political, is another subject Wilson investigates; African marks, hung within an ethnographic framework, have the titles of various AIDS related opportunistic infections engraved upon their foreheads, a powerful reminder of the epidemic which is currently devastating Africa. Turn of the century Guatemalan pots similarly "weep," physically giving a voice to an artifact forced into silence, and commenting on the rise of both internal and external forces which dominate and destroy the lives and cultures of Central America's indigenous populations.
— Juli Carson
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