ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

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


Arts of memory: skilful practices of living history

Location CSSS Committee Room No.013, Ground Floor, SSS-II
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 08:30


Safet HadziMuhamedovic (Goldsmiths, University of London) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Processes of memory survive through a myriad of artful skills. Their perduring performance adapts to specific contexts in order to communicate knowledge across time and space. This panel discusses imaginative solutions to remembrance, generally avoided by historiographies of art.

Long Abstract

What are the particular artful practices which preserve knowledge across temporal and spatial boundaries? How is past learnt and lived in specific contexts? This panel invites papers which expand the notion of art to include the 'lived mnemotehnics', whether embodied or consciously (re)produced.

Specific examples of tangible and intangible 'arts of memory' may be informed, inter alia, by discussions of politics, religion, oral and written histories, importance of place and sense of belonging, materiality, cultural destruction and arts initiatives.

Knowledge survives despite obstacles and violence of grand narratives. It is channelled through human and non-human agencies, in practices, places, artefacts, images, sounds and smells. As a cultural process, memory also becomes modified (and commodified), reappropriated and contested. It may be unconsciously essential to daily practices, but at times it is the silent language of resistance or at the forefront of social changes.

Explorations into these phenomena, usually scattered amongst disciplines, are grouped here to build upon the notions of art, investigate the different modes of remembrance and understand their role in personal and communal histories.

This panel invites interdisciplinary approaches to the arts of memory, and encourages analyses of specific and contextualised examples.

Discussant: Vanja Hamzic (King's College London)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Folk Performances and Forms of Public Memory

Author: Indira Chowdhury (Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

Taking as a starting point a folk song by a Patachitrakar (a folk singer and scroll-painter who performs the story by singing and pointing to the scroll), this paper will look at the ways in which historical memory is represented in such traditional and "timeless forms. I argue that we can only understand these forms of memory if we recognize the active and living intersection between ancient and modern worlds.

Long Abstract

This paper will explore the creative ways in which we might examine the self-understanding of performers from a performance tradition called "Pata-Chitra" from Bengal in India. The performers known as "Pata-Chitrakars" who traditionally paint stories on a scroll, compose the narrative to a traditional tune and sing as they unfold their scrolls. In the past, these singers played the role of entertainers in villages. With the coming of the cinema, later, Television, they no longer play that role. In more recent times, one sees them compose narratives out of recent events - chosen from newspapers or the Television - such as the Tsunami and 9/11. In what ways, the paper asks can we build a theory of oral history that would be complex enough to understand the relationship between, tradition, memory and history in the formation of identity. And how do we understand the engagement of such a community with historical events that seem at first sight remote from their lives?

The paper suggests that oral history has to necessarily take into account the complex ways in which oral traditions relate to historical time especially when trying to record oral histories with communities that are not literate and yet have other forms of historical memory. Not only would this enable us to understand the relationship between implicit knowledge and oral history it would also enable us to trace the complex relationship the folk singers have to their past - to their own individual life-stories and the stories of their community.

Weaving the threat of memory: war rugs and the memorialisation of war in Afghanistan

Author: Sophia Milosevic Bijleveld (Independant)  email

Short Abstract

This study seeks to understand the articulation of war rugs as a production of memory in Afghanistan. This traditional craft has been re-interpreted by women, to include powerful imagery of war, thus conveying the interpretation of the past by a subaltern group, marginalised in the memory creation process.

Long Abstract

In Afghanistan, the contestation of power by both local and international actors have led to a multiplication of representational practices, and thus the fragmentation of the memory landscape. Collective memory is articulated, through the presentation of a narrative of the past through a number of possible medium, such as textbooks, museums, monuments, or commemorations (Gillis, 1994, Winter, Siva, 2000).

The actors present in the memory landscape are not solely the state, or elite, but increasingly the civil society and what could be termed as subaltern actors, such as women. The case of the creation of a memory narrative by women is a case in point. One of such example is the making of the war rugs, which participate in the articulation of memory. These traditional afghan rugs made by non-literate women belonging mainly to the Baluchi group and often nomads have substituted war imagery to the traditional Islamic objects. They are a unique way of using the craft of carpet making reinterpreted with imagery of war and thus conveying memories of daily life, reaching an Afghan and international audience.

This study seeks to understand the articulation of war rugs as a production of memory in Afghanistan, and underlying the role of marginalised groups in the process of memory creation and their re-interpretation of history.

Remembering the Unseen: Images of Heaven and Earth in the Bosnian Mosque

Author: Amra Hadzimuhamedovic (International University of Sarajevo)  email

Short Abstract

This paper relates some representations of God, Heaven, holy places and prophets in Bosnian mosques to their potential reading as iconoclastic mnemonic devices. They depict the origins of reconstructive human nature: a need to establish the image of the inwardly perceived spiritual homeland as the authenticity criterion.

Long Abstract

Bosnian mosques are small, unobtrusive in the historical urban landscape, and, in their outward form, reduced to simple compositions of basic geometrical shapes. In contrast to its lack of outwardness, the Bosnian mosque opens inwardly through opulent design. Colours and shapes on the mosque walls, carpets and ceilings bare testimonies to the landscapes of inner memories. This paper analyses three potential readings of those memoryscapes.

Abstract images of plants, most frequently grape vine and cypress, orange, date and pomegranate trees reflect memory of Heaven. They are composed through a harmony of numeric relations, as well as a careful arrangement and choice of plants, some of which have never grown in Bosnia.

Relating the symbolical value of certain trees and flowers with the messengers of the Divine Spirit and Word, may be a sort of iconoclastic instrument of translating the nonphysical inner remembrance of the sacred into an incentive to materialise memory.

Images of distant holy sites - Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, the foci of the sacral map of the physical world, reflect inner experience and knowledge. These images almost never correspond to the historical details of the actual sites. Indeed, many times these sites were not physically experienced by the painter at all. Instead, they reflect an understanding of their immutability in meaning and importance as gathered from sacred scriptures.

God, Heaven, the prophets and holy places where the Heaven meets the Earth are represented through autochthonous imagery in Bosnian mosques, elements of which are noticeable in antic and mediaeval Bosnian monuments, thus expressing universal knowledge through local language.

Telling Lives: the framing and reception of narratives in Yugoslav refugee families

Author: Spela Drnovsek Zorko (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

The transmission of memory in families implies a certain intimacy that can be juxtaposed on the wide brush strokes of grand narrative. But how can we approach the issue of creativity in these stories? I ask how children of refugees receive, interpret, and discuss parental narratives of Yugoslavia.

Long Abstract

The transmission of memory within family circles, particularly in the context of diasporic everyday practices, implies a certain intimacy and precision that can be juxtaposed on the wide brush strokes of grand narratives. But is the distinction between private and public memory a useful means of approaching the question of family stories? I want to ask how children of ex-Yugoslav refugees who emigrated with their families receive, interpret, and discuss parental narratives of Yugoslavia, its break-up, and the family's migration. I am particularly interested in how the intergenerational space in which stories are spoken and heard shapes how they are understood as stories, even when marked by their lack of narrative structure - and how we may be able to approach the idea of "creativity" without privileging particular narrative conventions. My secondary goal is to challenge the unproblematic use of "narrative" in academic writing by asking how the concept of story is conditioned in the relational space of personal contexts and the ethnographic encounter. Such a challenge necessarily leads to questions about the imaginative ways in which conversations are formed while also being subject to established public narratives of recent (post-)Yugoslav history. To what extent can transmitted, second-hand stories offer insights into the intersection between familial memories and the grand narratives that have produced national ideologies, refugee laws, and miles of newsprint? I want to suggest that the "art" of memory also lies in carefully, often deliberately, negotiating the blurred spaces where stories change to both fit the speaker and listener.

Mapping Berlin: Memories in the Present Moment

Author: Holly Gilbert (The British Library)  email

Short Abstract

Photography is inextricably linked with loss and memory. The moment captured in a photograph is over as soon as the shutter closes and the enduring picture reminds us of this. My visual project uses photography to investigate how memories of the past can impact on our experience of the present.

Long Abstract

Photography is inextricably linked with memory. A photograph freezes a moment in time and holds it in an eternal present (Barthes, 2000). Photography is also imbued with a sense of loss. The moment captured in a photograph is over as soon as the shutter closes and the enduring picture can be a painful reminder of this (Barthes, 2000). In this paper I will present a visual project that uses photography to investigate how memories of the past can impact on our experience of the present.

My ninety-year-old grandmother was forced to leave Berlin as a Jewish teenager in 1938. Using her pre-First World War memories of Berlin as a starting point for my own explorations of the contemporary city I have employed photography as a methodology for exploring the personal and collective loss that has occurred there. Walking around the city listening to recordings of our conversations about the time she spent in Berlin allowed me to immerse myself in its past while seeing its present through the lens of my camera.

This highly personal method of mapping Berlin combines two different perspectives of the city: my grandmother's view from her life after fleeing to England and my own contemporary experiences of a city still in a state of flux.


Barthes, Roland (2000) Camera Lucida, London: Vintage

cartographical spaces of memory - between arts and lived experience

Author: Kathleen Coessens (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)  email

Short Abstract

Humans link experience and space, memory and maps, identity and place. Cartographical expressions, both in life and art, create lines of remembrance and become part of identity and the own narrative of life. At the same time cartographies of power also erase remembrance and rewrite history.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the role of cartographic practices: both as cartographies of remembrance and as cartographies of rupture. Human identities are defined by space and movement, place and trajectory, origin and diaspora. Cartographic practices are aesthetic responses to this condition.

Deleuze and Maalouf interestingly pointed to the importance of origin and trajectory. Calvino, Borges and Greenaway use cartography in their narratives and movies as the ultimate artful practice for describing human experience. They point to the human need to 'cartographise' their world and life.

Indeed, names of cities and roads, trajectories and origins create lines of remembrance. Identity is linked with personal/cultural cartographies, which are revived or narrated in maps. From Palestinian refugee camps, where streets are named after the lost places of origin, over drawings of death marches of the Nazi prisoners, to stories of immigrants of multiple mega cities, cartographical practices restore a sense of belonging and becoming.

As such, the map is everywhere.

But the map can also purposively erase life histories and rewrite histories, forget whole spaces and communities, or spread lies. No map means no existence nor recognition. By renaming places, moving (virtual) boundaries, ignoring slums or nomadic communities, mapping practices can lead to cartographic rupture, and become powerful tools of discrimination and submission.

Drawing upon artistic and cultural examples of maps and other cartographic practices, I will consider their impact upon culture and experience: as aesthetic output of memory, as narratives of remembrance, as tools of power and re-inscription, and as means of imagination and re/de-construction.

Production of social memories in the making of present and interpreting the past: Narratives of an 'abolished' labour institution in a highland region of Kerala, India

Author: Vinod C.P. (Indira Gandi National Open University)  email

Short Abstract

Social memories are products of present while interpreting the past. Individuals use social memories in the reflexive moments of their everyday living according to the structural demands stemming out of their multilevel social positioning and identities. This paper looks into the art of social memories around an `abolished’ labour institution called "vallippani” in a multiethnic village of highland Kerala region.

Long Abstract

"Vallippani" has been normally understood as archaic and pre-modern arrangement of production in Kerala. Valli, grain of paddy was cultivated in the typical marshy lands of Wayanad region, which is the study context of this paper. Chetty community, the 'indigenous' cultivators of the area used to manage the wet lands and used the local adivasi Paniyan community to work on them. In return they were given paddy i.e. valli. So this system of production is known as vallippani (labour for valli) in contrast to koolippani (labour for wages) which was introduced by settler cash crop cultivators in the second half of the twentieth century.

"Vallippani" was narrated by settlers on par with the system of 'slavery'. Settler representations became generally acceptable for Chettys in initial days which placed them up in a social hierarchy. However, presently Chettys tend to see the "valliappani" as a cultural marker to re-imagine their 'indigeneity' shared with the adivasis against the political and economic domination of settlers. The narratives of this system within the Paniyan community are varied across different generations.

Social memories associated with the "vallippani" at present spin around the mosaic of inter and intra community interests. Though officially it is 'dead', social memories of this institution are produced in powerful ways in shaping the contours of social relations among different communities. The paper tries to explain the ways social memories are produced in shaping the social relations which also represent the conflicting interests, identities, perceptions, and the negotiations of power in contemporary situation.

Hierarchy, History andPerformance: Critical Comments on a Non-Brahminical Ritual

Author: Cybil K V  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how in the historiography of Kerala the performance of a particular ritual excludes itself from historiography of certain forms while remaining open to certain others

Long Abstract

Performance of a specific ritual called kalam pattu as practiced by a caste devoted to the praise of the goddess Kali in the ancestral temples of the lower castes in Kerala is the basic field of study for this paper. Focusing on this ritual it tries to understand how through multiple representations of the goddess sometimes identified as Kali and at other times as Kannaki the performance has fostered a notion of general history (Foucault: 1972) as a form of lived experience of the caste . The Velan or the performing specialists (a group of Magicians according to the Cilapthikaram a Tamil classic dated back to 200 AD) of this ritual build and improvise new environments for syncretism of not merely multiple forms of the goddess but also of faiths as diverse as Hinduism and Christianity. The differences it so clearly makes in the performance of the conflicting moods of the goddess, one as destructive, the other as calm and benevolent also counter-point how such differences have been of late eased out in the making of a total history (Foucault: Ibid) of the Hindus in the region which has been dominated by the upper caste Nambuthiri and their worship of the goddess as a benign form adhering to vegetarianism and always in the form of a consort of one of the gods, Shiva or Vishnu. The paper will discuss the artful practices by which the performers guide its evolution to the contemporary times.

Foucault.M (1972) Archaeology of Knowledge, Routledge.


Author: Annika Capelán (Lund University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores ethnograhpically how wollen fiber figures and reconfigures modes of rememberance. It suggests that fiber, as it is skillfully worked and transformed, points in different directions of memory, and that this in turn affects emergent values in 'art' and 'science'.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on a study where woolen fibre is followed through different sites: for instance, in sheep shearing on the South American Pampas, a spinnery and an art collection where it appears as a work of art. By looking ethnographically into processes of transformation of woolen fiber, the paper explores how fiber figures and reconfigures modes of remembrance. It suggests that the fibre, as it is skillfully reworked washed, carded, combed, spun, dyed and knitted into a particular sweater that is presented as a work of art, tells different living 'hi/stories' that point in different directions of memory/forgetting. This in turn plays on shifting tensions between the notions of irreversibility and progress that affects values in art or science as given onto-political categories but that also bring out the figuring of 'art' or 'science' as emergent mnemotechnic ontologies.

In and out of time: Skilled memory, narratives performances and the construction of value among artisans in Old Delhi

Author: Mira Mohsini  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I discuss the use of different temporal frameworks in which narrative performances are enacted by artisans. I argue that these instances of “skilled memory” serve to define meanings of value in artisans’ conceptions work and craftsmanship.

Long Abstract

Artisans of traditional crafts, the world over, face declining access to markets and fewer livelihood options. Those who remain craft producers are often in positions where they must produce things to satisfy increasingly overseas markets that demand more quantity in exchange for lower quality. Value of work, thus, tends to be assessed by actors who are disembedded from the day-to-day life and life-world of artisans. But how do artisans themselves define value in their work? In this paper, I suggest that "artful practices" of memory and narrative performances can be understood as instantiations of value and articulations of authenticity. I discuss two forms of narrative performances among Muslim artisans in Old Delhi that employ differing temporal frameworks. The first involves the use of linear time to articulate an idealised past, which often emerges when experiencing the present as ruins that one is "left with". These disorientations are offset by invoking a particular past that reaffirms artisans' position as valued and authentic. The second artful practice is the recollection of sayings and anecdotes that have been passed down within families and from teacher to student. These rely on a different sense of time that is not based on linearity and continuity, but instead on the collapse of linear time such that characters and spaces become imbued with the moral authority of the perduring moment. I argue that this form of narrative performance builds a moral grounding for articulating value with regard to craft production.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.