Accepted paper:

Laughing at luxury and living out alternative aesthetics: the poor craftswoman's take on fashion


Tereza Kuldova (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper is based on fieldwork in North India, during which I followed high quality luxury embroidery from its production to its consumption, across the social landscape of contemporary India. It looks at the aesthetic sensibilities of poor rural women who embellish high-end designer garments and at their understandings of the nature of their selves and the aesthetic.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, I will look at how poor yet highly skilled village women living at the suburbs of Lucknow, employed by high-end fashion designers from New Delhi, conceptualize their daily activity, namely 'embroidering luxury' and how they, in this meeting and dialogue, mediated by the material, between what some like to call two parallel Indias, create their own sense of aesthetics and thus also self. This aesthetics is often a consciously chosen antidote to what most 'modern maharajas' of contemporary India would deem desirable. Not because they are poor and cannot afford the so called 'luxury' or because they would want to challenge or resist, but because they perceive the 'luxury' they themselves produce as plain 'boring' in aesthetic terms. They are unable to comprehend where the 'magical' properties of designer garments are really supposed to come from, after all they are those who embelish these garments and there is nothing magical about that process. While the upper classes are seduced by the rhetoric, personality and phantasms created by the designers, the aesthetic of the craftswomen is concerned more with the sheer materiality, the color, the feel, the detail, and the form - rarely the words. How do these 'poor' women, exposed to and dependent on the big names in Indian fashion industry, create themselves in relation to the material? How do they deal with what we like to perceive as 'exploitation'? Are they poor? What lesson can they teach us?

panel W038
Materiality and poverty