ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, 3rd-6th April 2012

(P43)

Aestheticisation: artefacts and emotions in diasporic contexts

Location CSSS Class Room No.104, First Floor, SSS-II
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30

Convenors

Anne Sigfrid Grønseth (University College of Lillehammer) email
Maruska Svasek (Queen's University Belfast) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel calls for papers that explore how migrants and their offspring value objects and images through intensified affective, multi-sensorial engagement and hypercognition. Taking a view that forms and imageries are experienced in themselves, we explore how aestheticisation shapes life itself.

Long Abstract

This panel is interested in papers that explore the ways in which migrants and their offspring value objects and images through intensified embodied, affective and multi-sensorial engagement and hypercognition. We argue that the notion of 'aestheticisation', conceptualised as a process by which people interpret particular sensorial experiences as valuable and worthwhile, can be used as an analytical tool to explore the significance of material culture in diasporic settings. The approach rejects the Kantian understanding of aesthetics as inherent quality of art, as the latter perspective ignores the impact of outside forces on people's experiences of material realities and fails to critically examine the social, political and economic dimensions of art and object appreciation. 'Aestheticisation', in other words, explores the evaluation of and intensified affective engagement with artefacts within and outside artistic fields, and analyses object transition, the changing value, meaning and efficacy of artefacts as they are moved through time and space. Taking a view that forms and imageries are experienced in themselves, we will explore how aestheticisation shapes life itself.

Particular things, from paintings to religious items, may for example be appropriated, approximated and displayed in diaporic settings as emotionally-evocative signifiers of family property, creating links to relatives in the homeland; as 'national heritage', expressing loyalties to states of origin; or used as 'important ritual tools', vital to migrant well-being. What are the political and emotional dimensions of such transitions, and to what extent do they generate personal transformations?

Discussant: Amit Desai

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

A hope for change: Ritual artefacts as agents of transgression

Author: Anne Sigfrid Grønseth (University College of Lillehammer)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how Tamil refugees and their offspring engage with Tamil ritual objects and imagery in Norway. It addresses the ways in which objects in diaspora can take on new and shifting values and meanings that create new senses of identity, expressing and generating hopes for the future.

Long Abstract

This paper explores how Tamil refugees and their offspring engage with Tamil ritual objects and imagery in Norway. While ritual forms and artefacts are commonly seen to represent continuity between the past and the present, this paper addresses the ways in which objects in diaspora can take on new and shifting values and meanings that create new senses of identity, expressing and generating hopes for the future. Based on an ethnographic study among Tamil refugees and their families in Northern Norway and Oslo, the paper also investigates how Tamil individuals and groups struggle to have their voices heard and recognized as legitimate and equal partners in social life, and role played by material culture in this process. Central assumption is that involvement in multi-sensorial rituals and engagement with artefacts help to shape life itself: as a mode of being. Taking a perspective of engagement and embodiment I suggest that objects can become crucial to the transgression of diasporic experiences of stigma and alienation, thus becoming agents of wellbeing and success.

Refraining and Longing: Ambiguous Relationships to Kolam in the Tamil Diaspora

Author: Anna Laine (University College of Arts, Craft and Design)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the kolam practice, a central phenomenon of popular visual culture among Tamils in India and Sri Lanka, mediates identity and belonging within the Tamil diaspora in the UK. It discusses aesthetic effects in the homelands and their transformations in diasporic existence.

Long Abstract

The kolam practice is a central phenomenon of popular visual culture among Tamils in India and Sri Lanka. According to certain regularities, women draw symmetrical images in front of entrances of homes to create auspiciousness in the family as well as in the surrounding community. The size, elaboration or absence of the images varies due to life-rituals and public events, which influences feelings in the immediate environment. The ideal material and social organisation of this artistic practice is in flux, and have added economic aspects to its meaning and aesthetic effects.

This paper gives a tentative account of an ongoing study of how kolam mediates identity and belonging within the Tamil diaspora in the UK. It shows that there is concern that disapproving responses from the British majority might transform the kolam into a practice that evokes problems and thereby compromise its current meaning. Uncertainties have caused people to refrain from drawing the images, while others creatively adjust their performances. It is suggested that the lack of visibility of kolam in the Tamil diaspora relates to experiences of lack of membership in the British society. In its absence, kolam mediates longings of home.

The study is positioned between art and anthropology, and it investigates aesthetics as a social phenomenon, situated in local moralities and negotiated in everyday life. The effects of kolam will be discussed in relation to Hindu notions of vision as a sensorial encounter where negative glances can be contaminating and harmful and positive glances can enhance auspiciousness.

Aestheticisation and Improvisation: Encountering 'Absence' in Indian Diasporic Settings

Author: Maruska Svasek (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Short Abstract

The paper will use the concepts of improvisation and aestheticisation to explore how Northern Irish Indian families mediate relationships with absent people, places and the Divine.

Long Abstract

Aestheticisation and Improvisation: Encountering 'Absence' in Indian Diasporic Settings

In this paper, improvisation is regarded as a creative process of engagement with both far-away people/places and the distant Divine. Based on research focused on first and second generation Indians in Northern Ireland, the paper will explore how members of Diasporic families mediate and encounter absence in dynamic and sometimes playful processes of aestheticisation, conceptualised as a process by which people interpret particular sensorial experiences as valuable and worthwhile. The analysis will also investigate to what extent 'vision', as one of the senses central to aestheticisation through material culture, can be regarded as mode of care and control. Weibel's notion of religion as 'medium of absence' will also be applied to analyse the particularities of specific diasporic transnational and spiritual encounters, for example through photographs, souvenirs, religious artefacts, works of art and digital imagery.

Threads of Diasporic Attachment and Ambivalence - Visibly Muslim dress in Britain

Author: Emma Tarlo (Goldsmiths)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of cloth and clothes as retainers and expressions of ambivalence and attachment in the case of visibly Muslim women in Britain who trace diasporic relationships both to their countries of origin and to the imagined community of the global Islamic uma.

Long Abstract

Wearers of visibly Muslim dress in the UK come from a variety of cultural backgrounds (whether Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Jamaican or other). Through their dress they often try to maintain relations of affective engagement both with the material and aesthetic heritage of their "homelands" and with that of the imagined community of the global uma (original Islamic community) to which they simultaneously trace their origins. In forging emotive attachments to the latter they often find themselves in a relationship of ambivalence to the former. These dual and sometimes triple heritages are often perceived by women as making contradictory demands owing to the different aesthetic and moral values they seem to valorise. At the same time they provide a rich range of visual and material resources on which women can draw, leaving considerable room for aesthetic manoeuvre and re-invention. In this complex process of self-fashioning, the clothing worn by young visibly Muslim women in Britain is invested with considerable emotion, not only by its wearers but also by a wider public including family members, friends and outsiders who often interpret their dress as a gesture of affiliation, incorporation or desertion. Exploring these tensions, this paper highlights the emotive qualities of cloth and clothes in the fashioning of complex doubly diasporic identities in which religious attachments are often portrayed as "deeper" and more meaningful than regional ones which may none the less be referenced in more subtle ways such as through preferences in colours, patterns or modes of tying cloth.

Aestheticisation of artefacts in the lives of western lifestyle migrant children in Goa, India

Author: Mari Korpela (University of Tampere)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses how certain artefacts become aestheticised in the mobile lives of lifestyle migrant children in Goa. Toys and clothes gain particular meanings when they travel back and forth between India and the West and children have vital affective, bodily and sensory engagements with them.

Long Abstract

An increasing number of western families are engaged in a lifestyle where they spend half of the year in Goa, India, and the rest of the year in western countries (usually in the parents' countries of origin). This paper investigates how certain artefacts become aestheticised in the mobile lives of such children. I argue that toys and clothes gain particular meanings when they travel back and forth between India and the West. When the children play with such toys and dress in such clothes, there are important affective, bodily and sensory (in terms of feeling and smelling) engagements with them. The artefacts become to signify home and belonging, and even personal heritage of the individual families, in the situation where their national and spatial belongings are vague and fluid. Interestingly, Indian objects often gain particular significance when the children are in the west whereas it is western objects that are crucial in Goa, a process which tells about a certain "double belonging" of these children, and a constant negotiation of those belongings. Very often, the children's parents are involved in artistic enterprises, which creates a particularly aestheticised environment that in turn affects how children view surrounding artefacts. The paper is based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork among children of western lifestyle migrants in Goa.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.