Office Artifacts: Deborah A. Thomas

Discover the stories behind the professor of anthropology's favorite office items.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Photographed and compiled by Brooke Sietinsons


1. Tile Mosaic: We were touring our film Bad Friday, about state violence against Rastafari. In South Africa and in Johannesburg we stopped at a small market outside the Soweto Museum. There was a man who did tile mosaics of famous figures in the anti-apartheid struggle and I bought this from him, of Steven Biko.

 2. Estate Map: This is an old estate map of the area in the hills surrounding Kingston, Jamaica, where I did my Ph.D. dissertation research. I got it from the Statistical Institute and would color it in with colored pencils during down time in the evenings sometime. I never finished it, as you can see.

3. Sunglasses: These are my funky sunglasses from the 50th anniversary of independence in Jamaica, summer 2012. I had seen someone in these at one of the arts events I went to, and asked my very social-network savvy friend Annie Paul to see if she could find out where they were available, because I didn’t see them on any vendors’ tables. Within moments after she posted the query on Twitter, I knew where to go!

4. Cards: These are “Cards Against Anthropology,” which a friend of mine made, modeled after “Cards Against Humanity.” They are designed to encourage students to probe ethics questions that might arise in ethnographic field research, and my TAs played the game in their sections for Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. My favorite answers are “Give a Hug” and “Panic.” The question, “You are doing fieldwork in a location where tuberculosis is common. A child coughs in your face, what do you do?” 

5. Shekere: I was living in Bahia, Brazil in 1989–1990, dancing and working with musicians there who were involved in the black arts movement at the time. My friend Cicero was planning to do a shekere workshop, so a few of us took a roadtrip for a few days to the “interior” to find farmers who would give us a bunch of gourds, from which the instruments are made. It was a riot, because they couldn’t figure out why we would want so many of them, since they just use them to carry water. I made this one, choosing the yellow and white for Oshun, the deity representing river water and beauty.