Tropical Landscapes and Nature-Culture Entanglements: Reading Tropicality via Avatar

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.21.1.2022.3877

Keywords:

tropical landscapes, nature-culture entanglements, Avatar, exoticism, primitivism, rhizomatics, archipelagic consciousness

Abstract

Landscape integrates both natural and cultural aspects of a particular geographical area. Environmental elements include geological landforms, waterscapes, seascapes, climate and weather, flora and fauna. They also necessarily involve human perception and inscription which reflect histories of extraction and excavation, of planting and settlement, of design and pollution. Natural elements and cultural shaping by humans – past, present, and future – means landscapes reflect living entanglements involving people, materiality, space and place. A landscape’s physicality is entwined with layers of human meaning and value – and tropical landscapes have particular significance. The Tropics is far more than geographic and needs to be understood through the notion of tropicality. Tropicality refers to how the tropics are construed as the exoticised Other of the temperate Western world as this is informed by cultural, imperial, and scientific practices. In this imaginary – in which the tropics are depicted through nature tropes as either fecund paradise or fetid hell – the temperate is portrayed as civilised and the tropical as requiring cultivation. In order to frame this Special Issue through an example that evokes tropicality we undertake an ethnographic and ecocritical reading of Avatar. The film Avatar is redolent with images of tropical landscapes and their nature-culture entanglements. It furthermore reveals classic pictorial tropes of exoticism, which are in turn informed by colonialism and its underlying notions of technologism verses primitivism. Furthermore, Avatar calls to mind the theories of rhizomatics and archipelagic consciousness.

Author Biographies

Anita Lundberg, James Cook University, Australia

Associate Professor Anita Lundberg is a cultural anthropologist. Her interdisciplinary ethnographies – set in Bali, Singapore, Malaysia, Eastern Indonesia – explore the intertwinings of nature and culture. Her thinking is informed by material poetics, film ethnography, everyday life and environment. Anita has won awards and held fellowships: LIA TransOceanik (CNRS, JCU, Collége de France); The Cairns Institute; Evans Fellow, Cambridge University, UK; Guest Researcher, Maison Asie-Pacifique, Université de Provence, France; Visiting Fellow, Institute of the Malay World and Civilization, National University Malaysia; and Anthropologist-in-Residence, Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. She has published extensively in academic journals, editing numerous Special Issues. Anita has curated exhibitions in NY, LA, Paris and Sydney, and her own research has been exhibited at the Australian National Maritime Museum, the National Art Gallery of Malaysia and Alliance de Française. She was a Post-Doctoral Fellow, Cambridge University, UK, has a PhD in Anthropology, and an MA in Science & Technology Studies. Anita lives in Bali.

Hannah Regis, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago

Dr Hannah Regis is a lecturer in Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. Her primary focus of research, teaching and publication is on Caribbean Spectrality, Black Atlantic and Indigenous Studies, postcolonial criticism, the blue and environmental humanities, and pedagogical approaches to literary discourses. She has published widely on aspects of Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean literature in Caribbean Quarterly, Journal of West Indian Literature, The American Studies Journal, eTropic and other periodicals. A single-authored monograph on the Poetics of Caribbean Spectrality is forthcoming.

John Agbonifo, Osun State University, Okuku, Nigeria

Dr John Agbonifo is an Associate Professor of Sociology of Development, and Acting Director of the Global Affairs and Sustainable Development Institute (GASDI) at Osun State University, Nigeria. His research interest centres on governance, conflicts, and environmental humanities. He explores these themes from a sub-Saharan African perspective. Specifically, John has worked on social movements and armed insurgencies in the Niger Delta, civil wars in Africa, and the use of sanctions to promote international peace and security in Africa. John is a recipient of several fellowships, including the Rachel Carson, and Swiss Government Excellence fellowships. He holds a doctorate from the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam. John has published widely, his latest publication, ‘Nonstate Armed Groups, Leadership, and Sanctions Effectiveness’ appeared in African Security (2021).

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Published

2022-03-30

How to Cite

Lundberg, A., Regis, H., & Agbonifo, J. (2022). Tropical Landscapes and Nature-Culture Entanglements: Reading Tropicality via Avatar. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 21(1), 1–27. https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.21.1.2022.3877