What is an animated image? Korean shaman paintings as objects of ambiguity

Kendall, Laurel M.; Yang, Jongsung

Building on a crossdisciplinary interest in how religion works materially, we examine the triangulated relationship between Korean shamans (mansin), the paintings of gods that hang in their shrines, and the animating presences that empower both mansin and paintings, drawing inspiration from Alfred Gell’s notion of “object agency.” The gods who inspire a mansin to manifest them in ritual and who animate the paintings in her shrine perform inspiration (of the shaman) and animation (of the paintings) in analogous and complementary ways through relationships that are variable, contingent, and often ambiguous. By contrast, the Buddha images that also inhabit the mansin’s shrine are a different kind of animated thing. Our study argues for more fine-grained discussions of numinous paraphernalia and the ways that the efficacy of sacred objects and bodies is realized (or not). We also offer a caution against the presumptions of generalizing terminologies such as “animated images” where different images might be qualitatively different kinds of animated thing, even within the same lived religious world.

Geographic Areas


Also Published In

Journal of Ethnographic Theory

More About This Work

Academic Units
Weatherhead East Asian Institute
Published Here
November 24, 2015