ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

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


The aesthetics of craft: explorations in the anthropology of craft production

Location SSS-I Committee Room, Ground Floor
Date and Start Time 05 April, 2012 at 08:30


Stephanie Bunn (University of St Andrews) email
Ravi Shankar Mishra (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

"Do craft have aesthetics?" This panel examines the relationship between the body, material, idea and object in the production of craft and domestic artefacts. Anthropological insights will help us to know the aesthetics of craft that emerge from peoples' engagement with these agencies.

Long Abstract

"Do craft have aesthetics?" Through exploring this question this panel examines the relationships between the body, material, idea and object in the production of craft and domestic artefacts. This requires an exploration of the relationship between art and craft, between ideas and bodily practices and the social relationships involved in 'hand-making' and other kinds of artefacts.

The panel will address the interplay of material and cognitive operations in production processes, and how these emerge through peoples' involvement with the various social and cultural agencies that constitute community dynamics. These are environment, religion, folk culture, tools and technology etc; community networks and communities of practice; interventions by government and non-government organizations; and local and global markets.

Globalization, modernization and commoditization affect production of crafts in significant ways, and aesthetics of craft manifest in a variety of social and cultural experiences, thereby contributing to understand these processes in turn. How social and cultural transformation, such as those experienced during current globalization, may impact upon craft aesthetics? How this in-turn may affect or constitute the making and unmaking of communities? An aesthetic of craft may thus be constitutive of its own moral and political economy of 'preservation', promotion and sustenance, and have significance for core anthropological concerns, such as the relationships between production and consumption, local distinctiveness and homogenization, continuity and change. Anthropological insights will help us to know the aesthetics of craft through the above mentioned agencies that constitute the larger social world of craftsmen, anthropologists, craft-activists, and connoisseurs cum consumers.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Making Aesthetics: the hand-made perspective

Author: Stephanie Bunn (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses the way anthropology has used the term ‘aesthetics’ to define art as opposed to craft and from the point of view of the observer rather than the maker. It explores this question through the transition from Kyrgyz hand-made felt craft production to textile art and fashion.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I argue that aesthetics, as it is most frequently raised in anthropology, not only tends to define art, as opposed to craft (Gell's 'artwork' as opposed to his 'mere artefact'), but also usually takes a viewer's perspective rather than a maker's. Clifford addresses how 19th century Eurocentric values came to dominate anthropology's approach to aesthetics, but he takes an observer's point of view. Gell's work on aesthetics has had significant influence, but he by-passes the maker, describing their aesthetic achievement as a kind of 'enchantment'. Ingold does address production, but is concerned with creativity rather than aesthetics. One almost has to return to Boas to find an anthropologist who approached aesthetics from the maker's point of view.

This anthropologist argues that all forms of makers find themselves working within an aesthetic, craft-workers and and artists. Exploring aesthetics from a maker's point of view enables us to explore the relationship between what we define as art and craft, in a concrete way. Drawing on research among Kyrgyz craftswomen, who have made the transition from felt-making, ostensibly a craft, to both textile-art and fashion design, ostensibly 'high art', I address how an aesthetics of craft emerges through the makers' dynamic involvement with community, with history, through their practical engagement with the environment and with their materials. I suggest how the aesthetic of Kyrgyz craft production enables an integrity of expression to be maintained in their work, allowing both continuity and change to occur in the face of globalizing influences.

Anthropology and aesthetics in production of Phulkari

Author: Anu H Gupta (Panjab University)  email

Short Abstract

Phulkari, a traditional craft of Punjab has undergone a great change in its social and emotional value, usage , production and design. It is also been produced for commercial reasons by women artisans of local community. Many organizations who are working in order to keep this craft alive feel a requirement of continuous flow of designs in terms of motifs,colour pallete,placement etc.

Long Abstract

Women of Punjab have developed the art of phulkari production at the cost of some of their very precious moments of leisure. The accomplishment of a bride and her mother and the affluence of the family were judged by the number and elaboration of the Phulkari and the Baghs that she received as a part of her trousseau.In present time, Punjabi woman involve herself in other activities instead of doing embroidery. The social and economical changes in the lifestyle of Punjabis have resulted in a great change in Phulkari-its usage , production and design. It is also been produced for commercial reasons. Whole process of product development in Phulkari involves many stages and out of these , only embroidery (Phulkari) work is done by women artisans of local community. Rest activities are carried out by various vendors. Most of the artisans are not highly educated and are totally dependent on middlemen for marketing purpose. The social and emotional value associated with Phulkari in the past is missing in the artisans. Traders, Govt. organizations and various NGOs in Punjab are working in order to keep this craft alive . They are of opinion that new products with new/stylized/old designs or combination of new and old will add a new value to the existing Phulkaris. This will in turn generate interest of the public or customers in Phulkari and hence a better income for the artisans.

The aesthetics of (the) hand-i(n)-crafts

Author: Anna Gustafsson (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines motivations and skills of Lulesámi women’s everyday crafts production as dialogues between multiple forms of relations such as the body, morality, and material. These relations will be of anthropological interests embodying particular values and actions interpreted as a form of aesthetic system.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the motivations, skills and consequences of Lulesámi women's everyday crafts production in Norway. Through ethnography, I demonstrate that the making and using of crafts is a dialogue between multiple forms of relations embodying particular values and actions which can be interpreted as constituting a system of aesthetics. "How can this aesthetics be defined?" and "In which ways does it come into being?" By focusing on the weaving of an avve (belt) for the gappte ('folk-costume'), these questions are discussed through the interconnectedness of the body, material, tools, techniques, politics, morality and history as they emerge in the present. Through the entanglement of these processes, an aesthetics materializes as a way of being and thinking. Learning processes and skills are considered actions becoming and being made within such an aesthetics. Craft is described as enabling people to do certain things. The maker has to learn what the craft is enabling people to do, and how to create this enabling into being. Whilst this is a process that demands skills in inter-personal communication, execution, and community consent, a craftswoman emphasises that "You learn by yourself!" The paper will examine aesthetics as a willingness to learn through ongoing processes of highly personalized engagement within the social environment and with one's own body. This also puts into question the recent division within the Sámi language between dájdda (art) as an individual expression, and duodje (crafts) as utilitarian objects merely representing collectively shared traditions-understood as 'ethnic', as these seem to merge ethnographically.

Where Craft and Aesthetics have no distinction: Discussing some Japanese contributions to the Global Arena

Author: Joy Hendry (Oxford Brookes University)  email

Short Abstract

The distinction between craft and aesthetics is alien to Japanese artists/ans who have reacted by producing some extraordinary exhibition pieces within the global community. This paper will discuss Japanese ideas that underpin the care and beauty passed on through generations of skilled craftspeople, sometimes designated as ´living national treasures´, and attempt to assess them in a global context.

Long Abstract

Imposing an alien distinction between aesthetics and craft on Japanese artists/ans has resulted in some interesting productions which have been given exhibition space around the supposedly globalised world. In practice Japanese craftspeople have for long operated within different frames of learning and production, and their contributions to the global art world are sometimes surprising and confounding, but usually aesthetically stunning. This could explain their popularity, and certainly the notion of intangible cultural heritage has influenced Unesco definitions and the value accorded craftwork elsewhere. This paper proposes to introduce some of the framework that suppports the training and exercise of crafts of various types in Japan - from houses and household goods to gardens and ephemeral productions such as flower arrangements - and add an anthropological analysis in line with the aims of the session. There may be some parallels made with other Pacific cultures, but this plan has yet to be developed!

Tisien eni atan: writing in the ground

Author: Craig Lind (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

Sand-drawing is an evanescent art-form composed by the movement of a finger through sand. The most enduring qualities of this craft are the persons who recall them in moments of revelation, that evoke the lives of their ancestors while weaving their own existence inextricably into these designs.

Long Abstract

Sand-drawing (tisien eni atan) on Paama, Vanuatu, is an evanescent, geometric art-form composed by a single, continuous movement of a finger through sand or ash. Once executed, these figures are wiped away almost as soon as they find form. Indeed, the most enduring qualities of this craft are the persons who recall them in moments of revelation - at once evoking the lives of their ancestors while simultaneously weaving their own existence inextricably into these designs. Many examples of this art are very complex, requiring continual practice, lest the routes and turns through which they are fleetingly realised be lost to memory. Conventionally interpreted as clan 'knowledge' in anthropology, sand-drawing is more meaningful to young Paamese people for the way that it recalls time spent with the agnatic kin with whom they learned this craft. These days it is clear that the continuity of this skill has been broken. Many men claim to know nothing of it because of their absences from their kin during periods of labour migration during Vanuatu's colonial period. By the same token, boys given custodianship of this art form, by their grandfathers, often complain that the hustle and bustle of town life makes them forget how to correctly reproduce the figures. This paper considers the way in which the aesthetics of sand-drawing embody and express important qualities of Paamese sociality and the way in which these islanders experience its absence and its forgetting in a rapidly urbanising Pacific nation.

The Politics of Handloom as a Craft: Exploring the Dynamics of Cloth, Society and Social Change in Manipur

Author: Otojit Kshetrimayum (V.V. Giri National Labour Institute)  email

Short Abstract

Highlighting the significance of culture of cloth in Manipuri society, this paper critically examines: i) the gender construction of weaving, ii) transition of handloom industry from a lineage based activity to the growth of women entrepreneurship and iii) the politics of dress highlighting how traditional costumes are used as a means for propagating the ideology of self reliance and cultural identity.

Long Abstract

In Manipur, every household is a production unit for handloom related items. Handloom weaving in the state is entirely the work of women and it forms an integral part of their domestic duties. However, it is not just an economic activity that can be accounted for only by economic explanation. It is a medium, which serves as a repository and transmitter of its culture and civilization. The costumes serve as narratives of a different kind, which inheres and tells the history, cultural identity, social structure, and gender roles of the society. There is a close relationship between the expansion of handloom weaving as an industry and the socio-cultural and political exigencies of the society. This paper, therefore, critically examines i) the gender construction of weaving, ii) transition of handloom industry from a lineage based activity to the growth of women entrepreneurship and iii) the politics of handloom highlighting how traditional costumes are used as a means for propagating the ideology of self reliance and cultural identity.

Anthropological specificities in the study of the aesthetics of an artistic object: the problem of movement

Author: Viviana Lebedinsky (CONICET)  email

Short Abstract

What would the anthropological specificity be in the study of the aesthetics of an artistic object? We examine the insignia, later called emblem, of the General Federation of Italian Industry, an artistic object conceptualized as a sign of social relationships considering Alfred Gell’s proposals.

Long Abstract

To examine the anthropological specificity in the study of the aesthetics of an artistic object, we concentrate on some research in the General Federation of Italian Industry in Bologna, Milan and Rome (1996-1997), whose findings contributed to elaborate a personal doctorate thesis in social anthropology at l'EHESS, Paris, France (2002).

The artistic object focalized is the insignia, later called emblem, of the CONFINDUSTRIA, whose study led us to conceptualize it as a sign of social relationships.

The thesis findings -empirically increased until now- are related with the anthropological reflection in "Art and Agency" (1998) by Alfred Gell, who argues that even though "the decorated objects please people because they confer aesthetic pleasure", it cannot explain "the types of social relationships mediated by patterned artifacts".

Gell conceptualizes the essence of exchange (Marcel Mauss) "as a binding social force", whose "delay between transactions" if it is to endure, "should never result in perfect reciprocation" and formulates an analogical reasoning about the exchange relation in the cognitive processes regarding the patterns of decorated objects, which is our aim to deepen. In this sense, the artistic object is studied emphasizing the examination of movement in:

- the unity of the design, the order of its motif and patterns, detected by repetitions and symmetries of the motifs: "mathematical properties of forms";

- the relationship between figure and ground and among textures;

- the appearance of animation highlighting the visualization and perception agency and cognitive processes;

- the "enchantment forms" regarding "cognitive obstacle" and "social efficiency".

Gods for tourists: stone carving and tourist arts in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu

Author: Sanni Sivonen (University of Eastern Finland)  email

Short Abstract

Explorations of the stone carving and religious sculpture tradition in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, and its current engagement with the international tourist market.

Long Abstract

Mamallapuram, famous for its ancient rock monuments and stone carving tradition, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South India. Hundreds of stone carving units scattered around the town create mainly carvings of various Hindu gods and goddess. These stone sculptures, often classified as both art and crafts, are made for temples and households, as well as for the international tourist market to be sold as souvenirs. Compared to the traditional religious statues, carvings aimed for the tourists are usually made from different stone varieties and also the iconography and technical details may vary. Whereas the philosophy behind traditional Indian (Hindu) sculpture making emphasises the importance of following ancient religious rules and norms, often the stone carvers working for the tourist market take more liberties in their work. Although the work of these so called tourist artists is sometimes accused of being mass-produced and showing low levels of technical skills, at the same time these carvers create new types of religious statues that can be also argued to show more creativity and artistic qualities than the sculptures intended for temples and other ritual purposes. At the same time many foreign tourists interested in spirituality buy these stone carvings for meditation or prayer irrespective of their scared status according to the Hindu philosophy. In this paper I will explore the artistic, aesthetic and sacred definitions of Mamallapuram tourist arts and their relationship with the traditional Indian and Western concepts of art and crafts

On dialectics between art and craft: the case of taxidermy

Author: Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

In taxidermy, boundaries between art and craft are explored and challenged as skill and expertise meet with creative tension. Triumph of craft or appropriation by art, taxidermy’s recent revival calls for an ethnographic inquiry into an imitative skill and its relation to aesthetics and creativity.

Long Abstract

This paper presents an ethnographic take on taxidermy, a practice that brings together craftsmen and artists, where boundaries between art and craft are explored and challenged as skill and expertise meet with creative tension. Taxidermy, long associated with big game hunting and Victorian kitsch, is experiencing an intriguing revival and a reversal of its fate in terms of aesthetic and artistic appreciation. In contemporary art, taxidermy is decidedly in vogue. Artists are increasingly invited to intervene in museum collections of trophies burdened with colonial history. They rummage the stores to fill present-day cabinets of curiosities or arrange mounts in surprising juxtapositions, seeking to revive a spirit of play that was lost with the rise of scientific classification. Others mount their own specimens, with mixed results according to professional taxidermists, or have them made to order to feature in trendy installations. Taxidermy in contemporary art, and its revival in the museum space, has also led to a keen scholarly interest. Art historian Steve Baker, for one, has argued that in postmodern art, creativity is considered to be at odds with expertise, calling for 'botched taxidermy'. In my paper, I will explore the links between expertise and creativity and question their alleged opposition in craft-versus-art terms by engaging the audience in dialectics between craftsmen and artists at several workshops organized by the UK Guild of taxidermists and between trophies and artworks as they emerge on the premises of a Dutch taxidermy firm.

Jadupatias in the aesthetics of craft of jewellery making

Author: Ravi Shankar Mishra (Indian Institute of Technology Delhi)  email

Short Abstract

The aesthetics of brass jewellery of Jadupatias of Jharkhand are not just about 'charm' but about the agencies that construct in the making of it and the community. The various agencies and cultural elements that construct the aesthetics of this craft have multiple relationships with art.

Long Abstract

The Jadupatias is an obscure community in Jharkhand, India, who engage in the dokra jewellery making. The aesthetics of brass jewellery are not just based on the aspect of 'charm'. But there is a larger social construction of its aesthetics of making. It is based on their own environment, the materials they procure from their environment and other secular and non- secular agencies. Family, religion, markets (both local and global) and intervention from the government and non government agencies construct the aesthetic of production, and in turn this constitute their larger social world of interaction which involves and includes the petty businessmen to whom they sell their products, the customers and the artists and the designers with whom they come in contact while in training camp.

But, it's sad that they have forgotten their own stories and songs that constituted the aesthetic of jewellery making earlier, as it has been largely replaced by the songs and stories on the transistors that play in the background. The issue is not that whether the folk songs or stories can always make a claim for their moralistic and superior status over the products of culture industries. But, what was part of their production will never be told or reproduced. Thus the paper would address the role of these agencies that construct the aesthetics of craft which have multiple relationships with art. Also, it would delineate how the community attitude changes towards various agencies which construct the aesthetics of making and their larger social world.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.