Monday, March 19, 2012

The Birth of Culture - a handmade book

This weekend I finally got round to producing and finishing the first few copies of a tiny book I'm calling The Birth of Culture. This book is really the first step in an attempt to inject anthropology with illustration - two disparate fields which I think have much to offer yet rarely cross each other's paths (I'll be posting more on 'anthropological illustration' sometime in the next couple of weeks).

The Birth of Culture then is a book about culture in its most generic definition - a mold of some sort that shapes the lives of a group of people through a series of habits, norms and beliefs. The theme here is not just 'birth' but also this constant motion that over time can be seen as a pattern or a cycle through which cultures pass. The various stages of this cycle are represented as different chapters starting from the conception of a culture (as influenced by its geographical environment), evolution over time, cross-cultural exchange etc. I found that the easiest way of representing all this was by using symbols, or visual languages (scripts). Language (verbal and written) can often give a good idea of what a culture is all about, and I've used different invented scripts to demonstrate the myriad different ways which cultures can find themselves evolving into. It is this precisely these impossibly different ways in which human culture manifests itself and learning about what causes them to become this way which I find so compelling in anthropology.

The idea for the book's subject came over time from reading old historians and travellers like Ibn Battutah and Herodotus. As I had remarked in another blog post, it had kind of dawned on me that cultures are in constant motion and that a culture may disappear but it never really dies. As anthropologists around the world are more than aware of, the globalized nature of today's world means that cultures (especially minority ones) have never had existing so hard. On the other hand, international human migration is probably at one of its highest levels ever and while this might be endlessly fascinating to witness from an anthropological point of view, it is also - and i say this cautiously - understandably creating tension which comes along with cultural mixing within integrating societies. Therefore, creating this book is a way for me to humbly console the modern panicked anthropologist and a quiet reminder that the use of culture can often be a double edged sword - a ticket for discrimination or an opportunity to celebrate diversity in all its human forms. Lastly, it is also my first attempt in making anthropology abit more visual and accessible for the curious public.

The book is almost a 100% handmade (only the printing was not done by hand, but even that was done at home) and involves a mixture of linocut, letterpress and rubber stamp printing processes. All artwork and design was also done by myself. It consists of 48 saddle-stitched pages, measures 14x9cm and is being printed in an edition of 350 copies. Copies can be bought for £10 each (not including postage). Please email me at if interested.


  1. This is looking so interesting! Im getting one when i come visit ;)

  2. Really nice man. Always a fan

  3. Afraid I don't an account so am having to post anonymously, but the name's Kit. I'm an anthropology student who, coming from an illustration background and looking for a way to combine the two disciplines, chose to study at Goldsmiths college, London.

    This somewhat rambling prologue is to contextualise my reason for posting here. I find your work interesting and think that the link between draughtsmanship and anthropology is a lot stronger than many anthropologists would admit - I would argue that due to its highly subjective nature anthropology is far more of an art than a science; something that is becoming increasingly accepted within the discipline.

    A couple of books worth reading would be 'The Predicament of Culture' by James Clifford (especially 'Ethnographic Surrealism') and - more contemporary - 'I Swear I Saw This' by Michael Taussig. Both reframe anthropology's relationship with art and artistic representation, and point to new possibilities.
    It is also worth considering the work of Joe Sacco or Craig Thompson's 'Carnet de Voyage' as examples of ethnographic/artistic work.

    Without having the chance to look through the booklet it's quite hard to give any more suggestions but would be very interested in talking more on the subject and offering my meagre learnings if you fancy.

    All the best, Kit Jury Morgan

  4. Hi Kit - I'm only just seeing this now, but thanks so much for your comments and suggestions. I am very interested in talking more about the subject. I have been searching for various platforms that are specific to this subject area and the closest i've got to is Visual Anthropology which is related but not quite. Do get in touch if you see this. My email is listed on