In 1988, Susan Meiselas first traveled to the Baliem Valley in the remote highlands of New Guinea (today West Irian and part of Indonesia), a large island just north of Australia. The tribes in these West Papuan highlands were only discovered in 1938; prior to which they had absolutely no outside contact. Their societal condition was officially ‘stone age’; they relied on a mix of hunting and farming skills for their subsistence lifestyle.

Encounters with the Dani is a history of contact with the Dani tribe, researched by Meiselas and presented in conjunction with the Nederlands Foto Instituut as part of the Photoworks-in-Progress series “Constructing Identity”.

In this subjective, fragmentary history, Meiselas draws from the experiences of missionaries, colonists, anthropologists and modern-day ecotourists, all of whom have come to the Dani’s Baliem Valley and transformed the conditions under which they live. The ambiguous relations between power and represent- whether in the form of Dutch colonial patrol notes from the 1930s, the sensationalized media accounts of the survivors of a downed U.S. army plane in “Shangri-La” from the 1940s or a tourist’s snapshots from the 1990s – become visible in Meiselas’s book, through both the contradictions and unexpected continuities of the gathered materials.

Meiselas explains that, “I wanted to explore the ways in which the Dani have been seen by travelers, anthropologists, missionaries, colonialists, and perhaps themselves, throughout this century.” The result is an amazing volume which tells of the discovery of the tribe, to missionary leaflets, to the 1962 Life Magazine article on the Dani.

Meiselas’ own photographs of the tribe are scattered throughout the volume.

Signed by Susan Meiselas

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