This paper examines the ideology of craft, embedded in discourses of cultural nationalism and unity of Asian civilization in the opening decades of the 1900’s to illuminate its insertion in meta-narratives of development. The speaker’s aim is to dislodge craft from its avowed nexus with national culture and to focus instead on its modernist reconstitution as an ‘Asian’ panacea to Western industrialism. For nationalist elites during the colonial period in India, craft was more than just a narrative of nation. Re-articulated as a signifier of universal truth and transnational solidarity, craft represented both civilizational pride and a rejection of European capitalist modernity. This paper will locate craft in the archaeology of Third World development by asking the following questions: How was craft articulated and deployed to address questions of the human condition? When did craft transmute from an active node of cultural difference and message of ‘superior’ modernity into a passive trope of ‘development’ subsuming difference?
Dr. Aarti Kawlra is a Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, India and formerly, Fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden, The Netherlands and the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan. She received her doctoral degree in social anthropology from IIT, Delhi and has been associated with the department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT, Madras (Chennai) as guest faculty. Her research interest in ‘craft’ traverses cultural studies, anthropology of artisans and development, body and technology, globalisation and postcolonial studies. Currently, she is in the process of completing a book manuscript on artisanal silk sari producers in Tamil Nadu and co-convenor of the Mellon sponsored IIAS Summer School at Chiang Mai University entitled 'Reading Craft: Itineraries of Culture, Knowledge and Power in the Global Ecumene'.