Tourist Art and the Seri


Tourist art is named such due to its nature as a souvenir or memento of a tourist's trip or experience. As a result, a tourist art piece may be less a reflection of a culture, than a reflection of that tourist's perspective or interpretation of an experience with the visited culture. A tourist art form may be a traditional art form that has appealed to consumers as being representative of the culture; or from a non-traditional art form that originated for the purpose of sale to those outside the community.

The Seri Indians began commercial ironwood carving at the suggestion of a tourist, but its origin began with the carving of toys and harpoon points (Lindell, 2004). Jose Astorga is responsible for the introduction of purely asthetic sculpture, which he attributes to the positive response of tourists interested in buying his wares. Traditional crafts, such as basketry and jewelry making were also developed to be included as part of the tourist market (Ryerson, 1976).

Consumer demand has shaped the carving industry, determining stylistic traits such as asymmetry and the abstract and representative forms of the carvings. To the tourist, the authenticity of a piece is based on his perception of the 'primitive' or 'native' natue of the carvings. For this reason the tourist may choose the most basic design over those which seem more complex or less primitive. To the tourist, those ironwood carvings which are most basic stylistically, are those with the most appeal. The artists themselves generally prefer more realistic, detailed sculptures. Early works included such features as nail heads for eyes and carved mouths, both details potential buyers found undesirable.

The existence of the Seri as exotic and unique is important to the sale of the ironwood carvings. So much so, that today, non-Seri Mexican imitators attach stickers with the words "Handmade by Seri" to the bottom of their power-tooled carvings to fetch a higher price from unknowing tourists. Today, the production of ironwood carvings has all but ceased, as the raw ironwood is very hard to come by, which has further increased the value of the extant carvings.


Lindell, Jim. Personal Interview. 30 July 2004.

Ryerson, Scott H., 1976, Seri Ironwood Carving: An Economic View, in Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World, Nelson H. H. Graburn, ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.