ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P17)
The endurance of the ephemeral
Location Hogan Lovells Lecture Theatre
Date and Start Time 04 July, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Sabine Hyland (University of St. Andrews) email
  • Stephanie Bunn (University of St Andrews) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel examines how biodegradable textiles ('the ephemeral') endure over time. How do textiles, from domestic (eg baskets) to high status (eg khipus) exist through time and memory? How does anthropological fieldwork engage the memory of the ephemeral, making a path from the past to the future?

Long Abstract

This panel will examine how biodegradable textiles ("the ephemeral") endure over time. How do textile forms, both domestic (such as baskets, felt and rope) and high status (such as tapestries, magical "love" belts and khipus) exist through time and memory? How does anthropological fieldwork engage the memories, traces and transformations of "the ephemeral", intervening to create a path from the past to the future? This panel seeks to address the multiple ways in which fibre textiles evoke memories, whilst simultaneously carrying meaning into the future. In some cases, these memories are renewed through interventions by anthropologists, archaeologists or conservationists who seek to document and/or revitalise a textile art through lines of engagement, apprenticeships, salvage ethnographies, collaborations. In other instances, local peoples seek to preserve, appropriate or reinvent older textile forms for multiple purposes, including but not limited to cultural revitalisation, tourism and symbolic political affirmation.

As they endure over time, textiles make tracks and knowledge of their own, all the more remarkable because of their often ephemeral and fragile nature. Possible paper topics for this panel include a consideration of the epistemological implications of fibre based knowledge. Do societies, in which communal memory is dominated by felting, spinning and weaving create interfaces among bodies, minds and landscapes in novel and unique ways that reflect these textile arts?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The language of twisted wool: the Khipu epistles of Collata, Peru

Author: Sabine Hyland (University of St. Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyses two patrimonial khipus from Collata, Peru. It considers the Collatinos' belief that the khipus are epistles about war, alongside evidence about the khipus' history from 18th century manuscripts guarded by the community, from manuscripts from national archives, and from the khipus.

Long Abstract

Khipus -- knotted multi-coloured cord records -- remain one of the enduring mysteries of the Andes. Spanish chroniclers claimed that, while most khipus encoded demographic and accounting information, others contained narratives, and some even served as letters sent from one leader to another. However, no specific khipu has ever been identified as a letter until now. The villagers of Collata, Peru, guard two highly complex woollen khipus which they state are letters written by their ancestors concerning war and rebellion. In 2015, in fieldwork sponsored by National Geographic, I was allowed to study these two khipus in Collata. This paper will explore three layers of historical meaning associated with the two epistolary khipus of Collata: (1) a 17th century chronicler's description of khipus as letters; (2) the traditions of the Collata villagers about the khipus' history; and (3) what a preliminary study of the objects reveals.

Remembering 'Cottonopolis' through cotton cloth

Author: Cathy Greenhalgh  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores ideas of the affective trace, ephemerality and “agentic presence” of stitched and woven cotton items and collected narratives for a film, Cottonopolis. Questions of locating durability and decay in the object arise through memories imbued by cotton cloth.

Long Abstract

Anthropologist Tim Ingold problematizes the notion of agency and materiality through a discussion of kite flying (Being Alive. 2011 : 215). Is the energy and presence in the object, the viewer, the path between (the kitestring)? Is wind rather than the flyer the agency? This paper explores ideas of the affective trace, ephemerality and "agentic presence" of stitched and woven cotton items displayed by participants and recovered through collected narratives for a film (shown as objects, in photographs and extract). These include lace, a wedding garment, shawl etc; from historical Oldham and Bolton (Lancashire) and Kaachch and Ahmedabad (Gujarat). Cottonopolis (2016, Cathy Greenhalgh) is a feature film about memories of "Manchesters" with observations of contemporary Indian handloom and powerloom cotton manufacture. It combines documentary reflexive essay and meditation, sensory and material culture ethnography, oral historiography and experimental visual immersion. The author is a diasporic Lancastrian with cotton industry roots. The handmade skills providing the foundation of the industrial revolution survived its decline. The paper considers the power and endurance of these fragile cotton cloths and how narratives indicate reasons for longevity beyond homes and factories where they were made; such as intimacy to the body, memory and migration. Participants feel for colour and count, strength and timing in manufacture helped define a chronotopic structure for the film influenced by a textile epistemology. Questions of locating durability and decay imbued by these affective relations changed the author's focus on slow and sustainable textile-like processes and possibilities of enhancing these in filmmaking and fieldwork.

Ravelling and unravelling time: part 1

Author: Stephanie Bunn (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores why hand-skills exert a pull which provokes their production, and re-production, and why such skills might be important temperamentally, and developmentally, for human thinking, learning and acts of memory.

Long Abstract

Why, I ask myself, did Scottish historian Isobel Grant spend many years of her life collecting "homely highland things", including a range of basketwork furniture, with a remarkable woven settee and a dresser with woven sides? Why do members of the Scottish Basket-makers Circle learn from past basketry forms in a resolved and autodidactic fashion, although their own work takes a contemporary slant? Why, when curator Sandy Fenton put together his remarkable Scottish Life Archive, was one key section entitled "Baskets and creels"? Why did birdwatchers Leonora Rintoul and Evelyn Baxter make the definitive collection of Scottish vernacular baskets in their spare moments away from documenting Scottish birdlife? And why did German photographer Werner Kissling become fixated on documenting twining and basket weaving during his 1930s Hebridean visits?

We may debate about the why's of the human fascination for creativity, skill, handwork, even tradition, and come up with a multiplicity of explanations. The diverse explanations for people's concern for skill will change, but the fact of this fascination remains, even when faced with its obsolescence.

This paper explores why, like human life itself, the handwork entailed in basketry, and other hand-skills, exerts a pull which provokes its production, and re-production. It examines why such skill might be important temperamentally, and developmentally, for human thinking, learning and acts of memory. And why, even when we do not need to weave baskets, people weave, and re-weave these forms, ravelling and unravelling through generations, the plants and practices entailed in their making.

Yoruba family status and memory through Aso-oke and Adire cloth

Author: Eni Bankole-Race  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the phenomenon of textiles as historical repositories among the Yoruba people of West Africa. Antique and contemporary Aso-oke and Adire fabrics will be used to demonstrate how these operate.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the phenomenon of textiles as historical repositories among the Yoruba people of West Africa. The more a "prestige" textile depreciates in physicality, the more it appreciates in status and value. Based on recent ethnographic fieldwork in Nigeria and twenty-five years practice as a textile designer and collector, this research brings together a number of concepts related to the history-holding attributes of Aso-oke and Adire fabrics, two of the most important carriers of narrative and memory. Textile knowledge is fundamental to Yoruba and complex language and specific expertise has been developed to describe and categorize it. Way beyond simple decoration, traditional textiles convey messages and code by pattern, weave, thread, even the weaver and circumstances of usage. All these bear witness to a narrative passed down through generations, even appearing in the family Oriki (a potted family history / ancestral praise song of their 'big-ups', achievements recited by certain members). Anthropologists of Aso-oke and Adire Yoruba textiles; Clarke, D ( 1997), Asakitipi, O., (2007), Olaoye,.R. A, (2005), concentrate primarily on physicalities of fabric or on textual socio-historical information. Their writings focus less on the meaning, significance and importance in the cross-generational story. Underpinned by a combination of sensory ethnography, material culture observation and reflexive practice, this paper identifies textile knowledge and textiles as a key carrier of the Yoruba life-world from the past to the future and across the Nigerian diaspora. Examples of antique and contemporary Aso-oke and Adire will be used to demonstrate how these operate.

Bark cloth in Uganda: from cultural symbol to sustainable art

Author: Sarah Worden (National Museums Scotland)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the tradition of bark cloth production and use in Uganda, bringing together museum collections research and fieldwork with contemporary artists working with bark cloth in Kampala, to consider the changing fortunes of a material imbued with deep cultural significance and meaning.

Long Abstract

In 2005, UNESCO recognised Ugandan bark cloth as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. With the aim to revive this centuries old tradition this recognition was but one recent phase in the history of bark cloth's production and consumption in Uganda. Once a commodity with a fundamental role in social, political and ritual practice the use of bark cloth had declined in all but royal ceremonial contexts as consumption of imported cotton textiles increased during the late 19th century. From this period bark cloth began to arrive in National Museums Scotland collections, a natural and degradable material removed from its cultural context, use and associations, to be preserved rather as material evidence of local production processes.

Today the evolution of bark cloth as an eco-friendly, renewable material of interest to Ugandan artists and designers has reinvigorated this cultural tradition introducing its potential to new global markets and fashioning new contexts of meaning. In this current environment, interest in the historic collections of bark cloth in the Museum has been revived. Are contemporary artists drawing on their material heritage to link the past with the future of bark cloth? Could the Museum's historic collections, located along that trajectory, become a relevant resource for inspiration? This paper will reflect on connections between historic and contemporary bark cloth traditions through collections research and fieldwork in Uganda to consider the changing fortunes of a material imbued with deep cultural significance and meaning.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.