On drawing

Hyamakuma’s six circles underline that ethnography (the production of ethnographic knowledge) always is collaborative (or, at least, intersubjective). But it also forced me to look at my photographs, field drawings and notes in different ways (see, in this regard, Causey 2016; Ingold 2011). In that sense, drawing also started to function as a heuristic device. I started to wonder how, for instance, I could represent the ancestors in a way that does justice to this ageing man’s worldview. After all, Hyamakuma’s drawing visualized a form of knowing: the ancestors are real, and are as much part of society as are the living. But how do you communicate this? Taking this idea one step further: can fiction contribute to knowledge? Undoubtedly it can lead to understanding, but would this suffice to rank it along more traditional scientific output?

Drawing, obviously, is a form of fiction. It forces you to more consciously frame, add, delete, arrange and combine visual elements (which I tried to emphasize by using heavy, black frames rather than the more traditional white spacing –the “gutter”– between panels). Compared with, for instance, photography, it also allows you to bring in semantic relief (Causey 2016, 8), to highlight specific details or manipulate the background. But is this not rather a difference of degree than one of kind? After all, when photographing or filming you also frame and compose, zoom and create (an excellent and confronting example of this in the context of Kaoko is the film Authenticized, Kraak 2013). Likewise, when you insert direct speech or a diary excerpt in your text, you also select, translate and edit. Is the latter then fundamentally different from composing a fictional dialogue based on interviews and conversations you had (see, for instance, Fassin 2014; Taussig 2010; Narayan 2007; Pyne 2009)?

For the record: I do think there are significant differences, and that these come with important ethical and epistemological implications. One of the motives behind opting for drawings and behind some of the aesthetic choices in Six Circles, was then precisely to underline the fictional character of the narrative: even though perhaps I am fascinated by the “chimeras and monsters” (Pyne 2009, 33) born from the cross-breeding of fiction and non-fiction, they also frighten me.