Optical Allusions: Looking at Looking, in Balinese and Dutch Encounters

  • Margaret Wiener (Author)

    Margaret Wiener is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Visible and Invisible Realms: Power, Magic, and Colonial Conquest in Bali (University of Chicago Press, 1995). 

Identifiers (Article)


This article revisits vision’s relation to power and knowledge through a symmetrical discussion of Balinese and Dutch ideologies and practices of seeing. Juxtaposing Balinese and Dutch allusions to matters optical in anecdotes about meetings between envoys of the Netherlands Indies state and members of pre- colonial Bali’s ruling classes invites a consideration of the role optical technologies play in assembling (partially connected) worlds. Highlighting the mediators that visual practices require, it argues that familiar claims about vision rest on hegemonic ontologies. Looking back at colonial encounters from Bali shows that what eyes see and do goes beyond observation.


vision, colonialism, ontology, Bali