ASA12: Arts and aesthetics in a globalising world

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


Weddings: identity and aesthetics in a globalising consumer world

Location CSSS Class Room No.103, First Floor, SSS-II
Date and Start Time 06 April, 2012 at 08:30


Gabriele Shenar email
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Short Abstract

The panel explores identity as taste and imagery in relation to weddings as sites where individuals and groups reflect on aesthetic sensibilities which in significant ways are linked to differing conceptions of modernity and visuality or more broadly 'sensoriality'.

Long Abstract

Weddings feature significantly in contemporary global consumer culture, underlining symbolically the notion to be explored at the conference - aesthetics. A whole industry, based on an economy of mutual obligation and exchange, but equally a desire for conspicuous consumption, for indulgence and sensuous display has evolved around weddings. Amongst the influences of folklore, the events script mainstream popular mass cultural texts that are taken as a yardstick against which to measure one's good taste and thus position oneself in society and beyond. It seems that weddings increasingly are sites where individuals and groups reflect on aesthetic sensibilities, celebrating, dismissing and re-defining social and cultural identities.

Traditionally, anthropological studies have focused on weddings as rites of passage or more specifically as transactional systems. Ethnographies often contain symbolic and interpretative accounts of weddings, expounding these as rituals and more specifically transformative processes that are constitutive of both the person and the community. While acknowledging these earlier approaches, the panel invites contributors to show the potential for an exploration of identity in an increasingly globalising world where both people, goods and cultural texts transcend regional or national boundaries. More specifically their relation to differing conceptions of modernity and visuality - or more broadly, through the essentials of music and food, 'sensoriality', - has not as yet been sufficiently acknowledged in studies of wedding culture. The aim here is in particular to emphasise the ways in which identity as taste and imagery has an impact on processes of negotiating, planning and staging weddings.

Chair: Dr Tiplut Nongbri

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Between the couple and the videographer: Ritual, identity and aesthetics in marriage videos in North Kerala, India

Author: Janaki Abraham (University of Delhi)  email

Short Abstract

In focusing on weddings and wedding videos in North Kerala, India, this paper explores the newness brought in with the presence of the photographer and videographer? How do wedding videos bring together the cultures of aesthetics of both the couple getting married and the videographer?

Long Abstract

One of the most dramatic changes that have taken place in marriages is the way in which the wedding is recorded and presented. A very large and heavy photograph album and a video that can be viewed later are considered essential products of a wedding. This paper argues that in the study of marriage little attention has been paid to a set of people who record the wedding and are now considered indispensible - photographers and videographers.

This study focuses on a community called the Thiyyas in North Kerala - an intermediate caste with a history of matrilineal inheritance and descent. The paper is based on fieldwork done primarily in Thalassery, North Kerala at marriages, in houses, and in photograph and video mixing studios. In focusing then on weddings and wedding videos in North Kerala, India, this paper asks how marriage rituals and the ways in which a wedding is performed have changed with the critical presence of the photographer and videographer? How do wedding videos bring together the cultures of aesthetics of both the couple getting married and the videographer?

From Ballroom Dancing to the Ghoonghat: Indian Weddings and the Aesthetics of Negotiating Identities

Author: Parul Bhandari (Centre de Sciences Humaines)  email

Short Abstract

From "youngster's night" to western dress codes for engagement ceremonies and "traditional" dress and music at weddings; the aesthetics of wedding celebrations in India are undergoing significant changes and in turn reflect on changing identities. The paper analyses these negotiations.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses specifically on weddings and ways in which their organization reflects on identities and anxieties of the professional and educational elite of New Delhi, who are negotiating between various forces of modernization, globalization, and other communal factors. Weddings are really a snapshot of all that is aspired for in one's marriage. From the clothes, to the d├ęcor, to the "functions" (events or ceremonies) there is a story and a statement being made by the bride and the groom and their family. These "statements" reflect the state of mind, the anguish, and negotiation that people are experiencing in their quest to readjust, reaffirm or acquire a place in society. These negotiations are manifest in their choice of themes and appropriate dress codes of various events such as "youngster's night" or bachelor and bachelorette party where the dress code is "Western"; the engagement ceremony where the bride-to-be prefers to wear a gown rather than traditional Indian clothing; other ceremonies where the dress code is "traditional". The significance of "our song" wherein the bride and groom dance to a choice of their song, often performing waltz or ballroom dance, highlights an emerging identity of the new couple. There is a trend of choreographed performances by family members, professional singers, dancers and comedians. An analysis of why these choices are made and what they reflect on the identity of the individuals will be undertaken, in the context of modernization theories with stress on fluidity of identities. Understanding changing wedding norms and ceremonies is important to understand changing social fabric of our society.

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For Love's Sake? Sonic and visual aesthetics of weddings in contemporary Nepal

Author: Christiane Brosius (Heidelberg University)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation explores Hindu wedding rituals in contemporary Nepal by analysing sonic and ethnographic data from marriage processions accompanied by wedding bands and by studying wedding photography and videography from the perspective of their producers.

Long Abstract

This presentation focuses on Hindu wedding rituals in contemporary Nepal. Two sets of data are discussed: a particular way of framing and staging marriage processions (janta vanegu) in the context of wedding bands and their performative and musical choreography. Despite many changes taking place within the choreography of marriage (e.g., the introduction of a 'dating culture', the addition of engagement, hiring a DJ on the evening of the reception), the wedding band is still an essential part of marriages; both for emotional, ritual and aesthetic reasons. Another set of arguments will be developed by presenting photographic and videographic materials made by professional cameramen. One aspect worth exploring is the fact that Bollywood is still relevant in terms of music. But the visual and other theatrical aesthetics show a reluctance to adopt elements from Indian marriages. Instead, there is a desire to generate a 'Nepali way' of staging weddings as cultural heritage, if at all. This also seems to indicate the existence of a different consumer culture and emotional ecology of the key ritual processions.

The material used for this study has been collected in 2010, after accompanying several wedding bands from Bhaktapur during the marriage season, interviewing band leaders and band members, wedding photographers and videographers who also document the bands' performances, and members of the wedding party.

Umabo in contemporary Kwazulu-Natal: art, grace and skill in performing a Zulu wedding

Author: Antonadia Borges (University of Brasília)  email

Short Abstract

Umabo is the closing ceremony of traditional Zulu weddings. Focusing on an Umabo performed for a living man by his late wife's relatives, the paper discusses how weddings become sites in which aesthetics, dispersion, social ties and cosmological location conflate into a mutually shared concern.

Long Abstract

Zulu weddings have long inspired anthropologists who have elaborated on theories of ritualized exchange and reciprocity based on their analyses of the negotiating process of Lobolo ('bride wealth'). However, while Lobolo forms a central part of Zulu weddings there are also other, equally important, ritualised performances such as the Umabo, that require further analysis. More particularly, the aftermath of apartheid's segregationist policies of displacement and relocation and their impact on the dynamics of so-called traditional Zulu weddings has not as yet been sufficiently explored in studies of Zulu society. More than 15 years after the end of apartheid rule, many Zulu families are still struggling to come to terms with economic scarcity and political violence and the resulting effects of these on the very practicability of traditional marriage customs. This paper focuses on an unusual Umabo that was performed by the family of a deceased bride/wife on behalf of her living groom/husband. The paper analyses how Zulu families, in their industrious effort to properly seal the marriage through the performance of Umba, negotiate the intricacy of displacement in and around South Africa, the relationship between mundane and sacred worlds, global exchange of 'traditional' commodities made in China and sold in stores owned by 'Indians' as well as the shifting experiences and expectations in inter-generational relations. The paper thus sheds new light on a subject that continues to be of perennial interest to both anthropology as well as related academic disciplines.

Identity and Aesthetics of Food Culture: The Dogra Weddings of Jammu, J & K (India)

Author: Abha Chauhan (University of Jammu)  email

Short Abstract

Food builds the identity and culture of individuals, communities and nations that is best reflected during wedding occasions. This paper explores how the Dogras of Jammu region in northwest India maintain their identity in the changing globalised world through food culture at their weddings.

Long Abstract

Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are, wrote renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) in his celebrated work The Physiology of Taste. Food shapes our identity as people and gives meaning to our culture. The surrounding society and ecology influences the development of individual taste, explaining why and how food cultures are identified and associated with groups and nations such as Italy with pizza and pasta, kimchi with Korea or potatoes with Ireland and wazwan with Kashmir. In India, and among the Dogras of Jammu in the northwest state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) food at weddings reflects the identity of its people as well as the changes to which the Dogra food culture is adapting. The food at Dogra weddings includes the traditional local dishes like Rajmash, Ambal, Kalaari and Mitha Madra with other cuisines like Punjabi, Kashmiri, South Indian, Chinese or Italian. No wedding can be complete without food being served in an appropriate manner and style, and with required taste and flavor keeping the aesthetics of food and ambience of place in mind. This shows on the one hand, the impact of globalizing consumer world and on the other, an urgency to maintain the identity of people through food culture in which the aesthetic sense is given consideration. The paper explores these dimensions of food culture of the Dogras of Jammu region in the context of identity and aesthetics that is maintained, sustained and promoted during and through weddings.

Re-scripting Ahom identity: The politics and aesthetics of Chaklong marriage

Author: Mehzabeen Hussain (Jawaharlal Nehru University)  email

Short Abstract

Chaklong is the traditional Ahom marriage ceremony. This paper focuses on the aesthetics and politics of performing Chaklong marriage rites as part of a wider process of revitalizing and asserting Ahom identity within contemporary Assamese society.

Long Abstract

Chaklong is the 'traditional' wedding ritual performed by Ahoms ever since their ancestors first migrated to the Brahmaputra valley at the beginning of the 13th century. Chaklong marriage essentially is a synchretic ritual which has incorporated various non-Tai-Ahom elements and styles in response to the socio-cultural, religious and political processes that have shaped Ahom identity over a period of several centuries. In recent decades the influence of globalised market forces which have replaced locally produced cultural artefacts with imported goods as well as an all-pervasive media (films, TV soap operas, wedding websites) with its proliferation of images of idealized styles that in many ways reflect India's changing social fabric, have left their mark on Chaklong marriage. Thus, for example, gifts given during "Man Dhara" (a ritualized gift giving ceremony performed during Chaklong) no longer include locally produced goods such as hand woven clothes but have been replaced by mobile phones made in China, imported watches and branded T-shirts. Other players who significantly feature in the process of re-scripting Chaklong are Ahom religious leaders, who, supported by a young, urbanized, educated and professional elite, actively promote the re-scripting of Chaklong marriage, attempting thereby to re-emphasise its 'original' Thai-Buddhist content and style. The reworking of the aesthetics of Chaklong marriage mirrors also in significant ways the desire by Ahoms to revitalise and re-assert a distinctive socio-cultural identity within Assamese society. The attempt to re-script traditional Chaklong marriage and thus Ahom identity identifies aesthetics as a powerful player in the realm of politics.

The aesthetics of weddings and the consumerist 'craze' among the Sumi tribe

Author: Lovitoli Jimo (Ambedkar University, Delhi (AUD))  email

Short Abstract

Since colonial times the Sumi tribe of Nagaland has been known for its lavish weddings. This paper looks at the different aspects of wedding practices, rituals and celebrations; the socio-cultural, economic and the political impact they have on the individual and Sumi society at large.

Long Abstract

The Sumi tribe of Nagaland has long been known for its lavish wedding celebrations. Sumi marriages are highly stratified and fall into four broad categories. Depending upon the social status and family line of the individual, marriage rituals are performed and Ameh (bridewealth) is given accordingly. With exposure to the forces of globalization, new dimensions have been added with respect to the manner and fashion in which weddings are celebrated, conducted and understood. There is an interface between tradition and modernity especially at weddings, where both the traditional practices and rituals and the Christian principles co-exist. When a Mithun is used in Ameh, which is generally the case when marriage is between equals, the bride's family is expected to give a reciprocal gift to the bride, all the ornaments and jewelries and the different kinds of shawls and wraparounds used by the Sumi tribe in pairs. The traditional practices and beliefs associated with fertility, wealth and long life etc are strictly followed. At the same time, the aesthetics and taste of weddings have changed and people are becoming more consumerist with the emergent middle class and the incursion of new values.

Consumerist culture that is imbibed by the society has manifest as well as latent functions, putting the individual's social standing at stake. How the bride is attired and adorned and the kind and quantum of gifts exchanged become symbols of status and style statement. How and where weddings are celebrated is also important because these convey strong messages about the aspirations, tastes and social positions of the persons involved. Hence Sumi weddings need to be explored not as mere rites of passage but social events with high symbolic content.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.