Rethinking Heritage and Marginality Today: Crafts, Threads and Echoes

 

GRID Heritage Network India Event 2022

Welcome note by Prof. Naman Ahuja

(Dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, SAA-JNU)

 

Introductory note by Prof. Parul Dave-Mukherji

(Project Principal Investigator, SAA-JNU)

Heritage and Intersectionality: The Question of Museums and Crafts

Prof. Jyotindra Jain, ‘Heritage Art Institution Builder’

In the introductory presentation along with the accompanying film, Prisoners’ Dream, Prof. Jyotindra Jain gives us a holistic overview of the lack of self-determination and self-representation of marginalised communities of India, from his lifelong experience of working with them and working on them in various governmental and non-governmental institutions. He also connects the past, present and future of them through the lens of the Hinduisation of Indian subaltern ‘artisans’ and reflects on the avenues of self-agency that still remain.

Jyotindra Jain Presentation

Prisoners’ Dream - film on contemporary visual activism using Purulia Chhau Performance of West Bengal, India:

Caste, Marginality and the Photographic Arts

In Conversation (I):


Sudharak Olwe (Photographer) with Prof. Y. S. Alone (SAA-JNU)

 

New Researchers' Panel

Aditi Kumar (PhD, SAA-JNU), ‘Collective Memories and Sacred Geographies: Commemorative Sites of PAJK Communities’

In her analyses of an abandoned temple, a famous commemorative site in Mirpur, now a part of Pakistan-Administered Jammu and Kashmir (PAJK), Aditi Kumar discusses how the image of the temple becomes a coveted image in the homes of the majority of the people belonging to the displaced community. Through this presentation, she examines the role of commemorative sites, ritualistic practices and everyday performances that aid in making a community visible. These ancient structures also become a site that preserve the traces of past memories through various processes of social and cultural assemblage. This paper will throw light on the processes through which sacred spaces are created and how replicas of the original shrines at Mirpur are used as cultural markers in new geographical locations. It will also consider how mass-reproduced copies of a shrine’s image create a distinct identity and a sense of territoriality that is re-imagined by the displaced community.

Aditi Kumar presentation

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Cindy Z. Tlau (M.Phil. Scholar, SAA-JNU). ‘The Making of an Identity Marker: A Case Study of Mizo Puanchei’

Worn as a sarong or wraparound skirt, puanchei (decorated cloth) is a bright-coloured handwoven textile that functions as a visual marker of the Mizo people in Northeast India. Representing ‘Mizoness’ in national and cultural programmes, Cindy Z. Tiau shows that ‘traditional’ textiles such as puanchei are used by the Mizos to forge narratives for themselves and make their presence visible in dominant discourses of the nation. This paper traces the thread of the woven cloth, unveiling its evolution from a simple grid-patterned cloth called puanlaisen (cloth with a red stripe in the middle) to its richly designed present form. She discusses how the crystallization of the cloth’s design and patterns coincided with the rise of political assertions by the latter part of the colonial period (1891-1947). The case study also highlights the underpinnings of a ‘traditional textile’, exploring identity, power, heritage, and women’s agency in creating the designs. This is in the larger context of the education of both men and women, church activities, and cottage industries introduced during the colonial period.

Cindy Z. Tlau Presentation

Sourav Roy (M.Phil. Scholar, SAA-JNU), ‘The Pat as its People: Communal Harmony Pats of West Bengal and Dual Religious Identity of Patuas’

 

Employing intersectionality both as theory and methodology (Fisher, Wauthier and Gajjala 2019, 53), this visual essay questions the epistemological tendency of classifying 'things as people' (Fabian 2004, 47-60) in the case of 'Communal Harmony’ Pats (Sampradayik Sampriti Pats) made in Naya, West Bengal. By self-admission and scholarly accounts (Chatterji: 2007-2020; Hauser 2002, Korom: 1989-2017; Singh 1996) they are a community that' are 'both Hindu and Muslim'. Each Patua bears two religious names, follows two kinds of religious rituals and makes pats on topics from both religions. Thus their pats on ‘communal harmony’ are considered part of an indigenous syncretist 'heritage' that complements post-1947 'official' discourse of secularism of the Indian state. With the comparative case study of three ‘Communal Harmony’ Pats by Manu Chitrakar (2018), one by Anwar Chitrakar (2017) and another by Ajay Chitrakar on one side and Satya Pir Pats by Kripamayee Chitrakar, Prabir Chitrakar and Manimala Chitrakar, on the other, the author problematises this assumption.

Sourav Roy Presentation

Music, Marginality and Performance

In Conversation (II): 

Sumangala Damodaran (Professor, Singer and Composer, Ambedkar University Delhi) with Prof. Brahma Prakash (SAA-JNU)
 

Screening of documentary on the social justice warrior performance collective, Kabir Kala Manch by Anuj Deshpande (2022). Introduced by Prof. Brahm Prakash (SAA-JNU)

Film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vQXcjJo2BA


Artists' Panel on Contemporary Arts and Marginality through Heritage Ranjeeta Kumari, Malvika Raj, Rakhi Peswani and Mithu Sen join the Chair, Prof. Raminder Kaur (Project Principal Investigator, University of Sussex)

Ranjeeta Kumari Presentation

Ranjeeta Kumari Video 


Malvika Raj Presentation


Rakhi Peswani Presentation

Virtual Walk through the Exhibition, all canaries bear watching, by the Curator Premjish Achari followed by a live Q&A session https://www.gridheritage.com/our-exhibitions

 

Gender, Intersectionality and the Photographic Arts
 

In Conversation (III): 

Dayanita Singh (Photographer) with Prof. Parul Dave-Mukherji (Project Investigator, SAA-JNU)

Presentation and Koli Song Performance by the socially engaged artists collective led by Koli fisher folk, Tandel Fund of Archives

Closing Remarks by Prof. Navtej Purewal (Project Co-Investigator, SOAS)

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Workshop Participants

Premjish Achari is a curator, and writer based out of Delhi. Achari has started an in-depth curatorial platform called Future Collaborations aiming at theoretically and politically informed curation. He is the co-curator of Bhubaneswar Art Trail 2018. He currently heads the programme and the editorial for the exhibition ‘Lokame Tharavadu’ organised by Kochi Biennale Foundation and teaches art history and theory at Shiv Nadar University. Besides 'all canaries bear watching', Premjish has curated 'A Time for Farewells' at the Haverford College, Pennsylvania and Prameya Art Foundation, New Delhi (2019), ‘Workers and Farmers: The Panorama of Resistance (Prelude)’ as part of the second edition of Future Collaborations at Khoj International Artist’s Association, Delhi on 24 May, 2018. In August 2017, he curated ‘A Preview to Desolation’ at the Italian Cultural Center. He was the Fellow for Curatorial Intensive South Asia (CISA) 2017 at KHOJ International Artist’s Association.

 

Prof. Naman P. Ahuja is a curator of Indian art, Dean and Professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-Editor of Marg Publications. Most noted for his critically acclaimed exhibition, ‘The Body in Indian Art and Thought‘ (shown at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels and the National Museum in Delhi in 2013-14), his curatorial work started at the British Museum in 2001, followed by exhibitions at Casa Asia in Barcelona, the Ashmolean in Oxford as well as numerous venues in India where they range in subject matter from antiquities to contemporary art. His studies on terracottas, ivories and small finds have drawn attention to the foundations of Indian iconography and transcultural exchanges at an everyday, quotidian level. Previously, as Fellow at the Ashmolean Museum, he authored a comprehensive catalogue of their collections of ancient Indian statuary and archaeological material: The Art and Archaeology of Ancient India (Ashmolean, November 2018).


 

Prof. Y. S. Alone currently teaches at the School of Arts and Aesthetics and holds a BFA (Drawing and Painting) and M.A. (Fine) Art History. Deeply engaged in contemporary social movements his research interests, publications and curations include but are not limited to areas of Ancient Indian Art, critique of Walter Spink, Ajanta and other Buddhist caves in Western India, critique of modern Indian art, popular neo-Buddhist visual culture and photography, and most importantly Ambedkarite modes of social scientific theorisation and interpretation. He has been a Visiting Professor in Shenzhen University China, Renmin University Beijing China, Autonoma University Madrid, Heidelberg University Germany, and East China Normal University Shanghai China. His latest published volume is Early Western Indian Buddhist Caves: Forms and Patronage. His current focus is a critical conceptual formulation termed as ‘protected ignorance' about which he has delivered a keynote lecture in Dr. B R Ambedkar's alma mater, Columbia University, among other institutions.

 

Dr. Brahma Prakash teaches Theatre and Performance Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is a scholar of South Asian folk culture and performance traditions with research intersects in ritual, performance and festival and protest studies in relation to the questions of marginality, aesthetics and cultural justice. His latest publication is Cultural Labour: Conceptualizing the ‘Folk Performance’ in India. His forthcoming books, A Memoir and Songs of a Maoist Rebel and The Body on the Barricades: Curtailment of Life and Freedom in Contemporary India are undergoing severe rounds of institutional censorship. His current working project theorises cultural justice in India through the performance of epic and narrative traditions of subaltern communities.

Prof. Sumangala Damodaran teaches Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. She is also a singer and composer. Her archiving and documentation of the musical tradition of the Indian People’s Theatre Association from the 1940s and 1950s has resulted in a book, The Radical Impulse: Music in the Tradition of the IPTA, and an album titled ‘Songs of Protest’. She has also collaborated with poets and musicians from South Africa, which has resulted in four albums. She is currently engaged in researching the relationship between music and migration, particularly of women.


Principal Investigator of GRID Heritage Project India, Prof. Parul Dave-Mukherji is a professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Besides a long list of publications on various aspects of Indian art and art theory, her current research interest is Anukrtivada or theory of performative mimesis found in a tenth century CE Sanskrit commentary, Abhinavabharati by Abhinavagupta, which was overlooked by nationalist art historians for its alleged affinity with Greek theory of mimesis. Her latest publication is 20th Century Indian Art, an extensive volume on more than hundred years of modern and contemporary art in India (coedited with Partha Mitter and Rakhee Balaram, Thames and Hudson, 2022).

 

Prof. Jyotindra Jain is an Indian art and cultural historian, and museologist. A scholar on folk and ritual arts of India, he was the Director of the National Crafts Museum, New Delhi, Member Secretary and Professor (Cultural Archives), at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, and also the Professor and Dean at the School of Arts and Aesthetics. His notable publications are Ganga Devi: Tradition and Expression in Mithila Painting, Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India and Kalighat Painting: Images from a Changing World. He has been an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, a Homi Bhabha Fellow and a Visiting Professor at the Center for the Study for World Religions, Harvard University, USA. He was awarded the Prince Claus Awards in 1998.

Principal Investigator of the GRID Heritage Project UK, Prof. Raminder Kaur teaches Anthropology and Cultural Studies in the Departments of Anthropology and International Development at the University of Sussex. She is Co-Director of the Sussex Asia Centre and formerly Director of Doctoral Studies and interim Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Sussex School of Global Studies. Raminder combines her research interests with creative activities. She has made a film based on her research and book on comics books and youth cultures, Adventure Comics and Youth Cultures in India (authored with Saif Eqbal, Routledge 2018). She is a scriptwriter, and has written several scripts for theatre productions and filmed theatre. She has also made short films based on workshops, rehearsals and performances with young people and professional actors.

 

Dr Aditi Kumar is an Art historian, Curator and Cultural practitioner. Presently, she is teaching as an Assistant Professor at the Thapar School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She completed her PhD at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University on ‘Memorializing displacement: Images, Objects and Visual Histories of the Contested Regions of Jammu and Kashmir’. Her research focuses on how family photographs and biographical objects reflect and shape experiences of displacement, exile and migration. Her present scholarship interrogates the role of art and culture in the formation of postcolonial nation-states and national or regional identities of the Global South. Her research focuses on the visual histories and identity politics of marginalised communities. Recently, she has been working with the Jammu and Kashmir diaspora communities settled in the UK.


Co-Investigator of the GRID Heritage Project, Prof. Navtej Purewal teaches Political Sociology and Development Studies at SOAS. All of her research has in some way been concerned with the dialectical relationship between the political and the social, with an interest in structures, policies and institutions which shape the field of ‘development’. Her recent book, Beyond Religion in India and Pakistan: Gender and Caste, Borders and Boundaries (Bloomsbury, 2019) outlines an approach to understanding social and political forms of hegemony in terms of how resistance and transgression are framed through subalternity. She is committed to feminist, non-Eurocentric, decolonial praxis in teaching and research.


Besides being a New Scholars' Panellist in the GRID Heritage India Online Event and Programme Co-ordinator and Researcher for GRID Heritage Network, India, Sourav Roy is currently a Visual Studies M.Phil. scholar in the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. After a decade in Advertising and Marketing Communications Industry, he has completed two Master's Degrees - in Modern and Contemporary Indian Art History, and Indian Arts and Aesthetics. A Tasveer Ghar Fellow (2017-18), Sourav is a regular contributor and translator in both Bangla and English for national and international culture and research publications. He is also the co-editor of Stimulus->Respond Magazine, London.

 

Cindy Zothanpuii Tlau is a M.Phil. research scholar in Visual Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. After completing a BA (Hons.) in Philosophy from Lady Shri Ram College for women, she pursued an MA in Arts and Aesthetics from JNU. Her research area is on the transformation of textiles and identity among the Mizo people of Northeast India. She is also a recipient of the Junior Research Fellowship.

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Reflections

 

The workshop was a wonderful couple of days of learning, conversations, images and songs. 

It was heartwarming, heartbreaking, challenging and inspiring in equal measures.

We heard and saw a wealth of presentations to enable us to address our core concerns and questions.

From the mixed legacies of the Art and Crafts movement to the lack of self-determination and self-representation of marginalised artmakers. 

From the unnamed potter woman who repurposed smoke marks in pats (scroll art) to cloud patterns by unnamed Dushadh women who made the Madhubani paintings in our exhibition. 

From the Hinduisation of Indian tribes to the phenomena of dual Hindu-Muslim identity of West Bengal patuas (scrollmakers). 

From the ‘loud silence’ of the Indian intelligentsia to acknowledge the photographic legacy of an award-winning photographer from a marginalised background to the eagerness of the Hindi film industry to appropriate Son Koli (fisherfolk) songs. 

From a 'unique eunuch’s' refusal to enter a marginalised frame and become immortalised in photographs and literature to a renowned male poet chastising a woman artist for painting 'nangi aurat' (‘naked woman’ with pornographic associations). 

And from artmaking to social and political consciousness that keeps alive issues to do with Gender, Intersectionality, Diaspora and Heritage - the core concerns of the GRID Heritage Network.

 

We continue to (re)examine divides between tradition and modern (traditional and modernity), art and craft, artist and craftsperson, and all the other markers of identity and identification that go with it in our project as they converge under the umbrella of gender and intersectionality. 

Our approach is to unpack and dismantle such hegemonies, hierarchies and divides - explicit and implicit - on grounds of gender, caste, class, ethnicity/race, sexuality among other markers of identity, difference and inequalities in their various forms. Our art exhibition in the SAA-JNU art gallery turned out to be an ideal forum where highly established artists and the artists struggling for recognition shared the same space; thanks to the carefully pitched curatorial intervention, their works spoke to each other in volume.

We have opted for merged terrain such as heritage arts; fusions such as artworks and artmakers; and an ocean of repertoires for transnational music and performance. We recognise that creativity and labour go into their making whatever their designation; and it is institutions and mainstream or national histories that have allocated certain objects and peoples more value and status than others.

Even though for GRID Heritage, we have proposed provisional categories - crafts threads and echoes - we appreciate that artmakers cut across these categories. Perhaps we should think of them as more metaphorically - that is, crafts as created objects, threads as emergent cultural, social and political contexts woven around them, and echoes with the trails, traces, memories and transformations of objects and contexts that move across times and spaces including to Africa and the UK as part of the South Asian transnational nexus. Indeed, threads have a long history of weaving social narratives: for example, phulkari has been lifted out of its traditional bagh (garden) aesthetics to represent tales of displacement during and after the partition of India. Artists are also aware of the need to revisit threads, not only in terms of their aesthetic value, but also in terms of their therapeutic potential.

 

Workshop Feedback 

 

‘just a note to say thank you so much for creating the opportunity to attend the grid project workshops and witnessing  groundbreaking works and learn a lot …’

 

‘Really enjoyed it, was dipping in and out but what a great event, never heard of these artists so was really inspiring..’

 

‘What fabulous breadth of work and artists!’

 

‘Not only were the sessions in the workshop insightful, but the wide range of art practitioners and topics included gave me new and valuable perspectives of art.’