Research Seminar with Corinna Cambell
When performing within a touristic idiom, Surinamese Maroon folkloric groups face a conundrum—how and to what degree can they satisfy touristic appetites for the foreign and exotic, while promoting realistic self-images that validate their own experiences and cultural practices?
Maroons are especially marketable to tourists owing to their historical legacy as escaped slaves and freedom fighters, and the strength and alleged purity of their connections to the cultural practices of their African ancestors. These narratives map neatly onto the format of a ‘cultural show’, which primes audiences to look for and affirm the differences and distances between performers and audiences. Often, however, characterization risks devolving into caricaturization, portraying Maroons and their traditions in a simplistic and potentially alienating or offensive light. Using case studies from the folkloric group Saisa, this talk illustrates how Maroon performers employ a politics of recognition in order to complicate simplistic interpretations of Maroon culture and performance practice, unsettling dominant cultural narratives without overturning them outright. Rather than disavowing touristic preoccupations with daily life and authentic experiences, Saisa's choreographies embrace such themes, but redirect them to known and unlikely references. When applied to more broadly recognizable scenarios and subject matter, the touristic gaze becomes stranger than the practices on which it is focused.
Corinna Campbell is Assistant Professor of Music at Williams College in the USA. Her book, The Cultural Work: Maroon Performance in Paramaribo, Suriname, will be published by Wesleyan University Press in June 2020. Her research covers topics including cultural tourism, nationalist performance, and music/dance interconnections.