EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Which craft? Politics and aesthetics of handicraft in post-industrial contexts
Location U7-15
Date and Start Time 20 July, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Jean-Yves Durand (CRIA-UMinho) email
  • Antonella Camarda (University of Sassari) email

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Short Abstract

Transdisciplinary, contextual approaches looking beyond the formal dimensions of "what is craft" are needed to unravel the political economics and aesthetics that underlie the growing social demand for handicraft, a once inconsequential activity now at to the forefront of global identity politics.

Long Abstract

Social sciences have trouble grasping the widely polysemic notion of "craft". Anthropologists have often approached it through their early idea that "material culture" was a reliable depository of a cultural universe's specificities, before focusing on the reinterpretation and revival of traditional crafts. They tackle aspects of apprenticeship or the issue of authenticity and assess whether forms of social "resistance" are to be found in a realm of activities that has outgrown the ethnic-and-tourist-arts paradigm defined by Nelson Graburn.

Generally posited in contrast to industrial production, handicrafts are less clearly sited in postindustrial economies. The "past" is not necessarily a source of legitimation for design-oriented or "arts-and-crafts" practices, and tradition-rooted projects cannot always mobilize it in multicultural contexts. This or other predicaments resulting from cultural ownership disputes are addressed through identity rhetorics or legal strategies, especially when commoditization is at stake. Worldwide, a once inconsequential activity has come to the forefront of global identity politics: the current labor, technical, economic and aesthetic dynamics of crafts call for renewed ethnographies and comparative studies.

Transdisciplinary, contextual approaches must now look beyond the formal dimensions of "what is craft". Centered on when and how diverse acceptions of the notion are brought into play by all actors (including the clients, from accidental buyers to systematic collectors), keeping in mind that not all craft production has commercial purposes, they'll aim at unraveling the node of political economics and aesthetics that underlie the contemporary growing social demand for craft and associated values.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Arts or Crafts. Aesthetic utopia, social planning and the uneasy relationship between artists, designers and artisans in post-war Sardinia

Author: Antonella Camarda (University of Sassari)  email

Short Abstract

In post-war Sardinia, a regional agency, the I.S.O.L.A., tried to re-invent crafts for the modern living and a developing tourist market. Modern artifacts were labeled and sold as "traditional", born out of a timeless culture, raising issues of status and authorship.

Long Abstract

In the aftermath of World War II, crafts seemed to represent a way to contribute to the European material and spiritual reconstruction process.

In post-war rural Sardinia, crafts also represented a way to a sustainable development and a tool to express and enhance identity values. A regional agency, the I.S.O.L.A. (Sardinian Institute for the Organisation of Artisanal Work) was founded in 1957 to bring together artists, designers and craftsmen to adapt, re-invent and re-functionalise crafts for both the modern living and a developing tourist market.

At the core of the project stood a deep-rooted contradiction: the artists and designers involved were representatives of the modern movement, while their products were seen and sold as anonymous artifacts, labelled as "traditional", born out of a timeless culture, their points of reference placed in a blurred, undefined ethnographic past.

Behind a modern facade, a XIX century romantic conception of a coral creation undermined the project feasibility, raising issues of status and authorship. Synthesis and collaboration were at odds with the autonomy of each medium involved and the affirmation of individual creativity. Eventually these conflictual dynamics, within the frame of the global marginalisation of crafts, led to the crisis of the institute and its progressive disposal.

Today, as the discourse on crafts has regained a centrality both in the artistic practice and in the cultural debate, raising issues on authenticity, activism and sustainability, rethinking the I.S.O.L.A. experience offers a good starting point to address present questions and needs.

"Visible" and "invisible" Sámi craftsmanship

Author: Anna Gustafsson (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at “visible” (commercial) and “invisible” (domestic) craftsmanship among the Sámi of northern Fennoscandia. In doing so, it highlights important insights and connections concerning handicraft, commercialisation processes, domestic work, identity politics, kinship and gender.

Long Abstract

Within the last few decades there has been a growing demand for Sámi handicrafts, both among Sámi and non-Sámi people. This increasing demand has resulted in a thriving commercial market as well as a growing domestic production. Many recent studies address the commodification of Sámi handicraft. By contrast, domestic craft production has gained less attention in contemporary debates. It was mainly women who made handicraft in the small North-Norwegian hamlet where I conducted fieldwork. While their work was becoming increasingly wanted and appreciated by their kin, neighbours and friends, the women often portrayed themselves and their work as being usynlig (invisible) in academic and political contexts. This paper considers the significance of women's domestic craft production and questions why the domestic has been a marginalised topic of study. It also looks at the interrelationship between various new demands and values of Sámi handicraft and their production processes. Paying attention to the demands of handicraft made at home for non-commercial purposes provides novel insights on Sámi handicraft in contemporary society. I argue that, from the Lulesámi perspective, commercial production reproduces Sámi handicraft and offers an important source of livelihood. Domestic craft production establishes, on the other hand, affectionate relationships among family members, contributes to the household economy and provides an important domain for women to express themselves.

Traditional communities and the stigma of heritage: between the creativity and the identity of the quilombolas

Authors: Ana Stela Cunha (Federal University of Maranhão)  email

Short Abstract

We aims to reflect on the craftsmanship and all the discussion that has been going on in Brazil in the last 20 years about "ancestry", "patrimony" and consequently "identity" in so-called quilombos, observing how they practice traditional and contemporary craft techniques from production to market.

Long Abstract

The narratives of craft and artisanship find their way into people's everyday understanding of global difference, as well as into national, local and individual constructions of identity.

Within this proposal this paper aims to reflect on the craftsmanship and all the discussion that has been going on in Brazil in the last 15 or 20 years, on "ancestry", "patrimony" and consequently "identity" and "creativity" in so-called quilombos, in Brazil

We are interested in observing how the quilombolas practice and evaluate traditional and contemporary craft techniques from production to market.

Other insights to critical questions in the social sciences and humanities could emerge, for example, what people mean when they mark something as a craft or identify themselves as artisans? or How can comparative work on craft across cultures and across classes both augment and complicate our understandings of local relationships to creativity and identity?

The ethnographic data is based on extensive field research, of over 14 years, with the quilombos that are part of a project currently ongoing, called "Solidarity" and intends to sell to the European market, the production of bags, shirts and material whose "inspiration" is the knowledge of Bumba Bois (art of embroidery with beads).

Social science theories of embodiment, apprenticeship learning, skill, labor, expertise, and tacit knowledge will be called to explore distinctions and connections among art, craft, and heritage, discussing the commoditization of craft into market goods and tourism industries.

The politics and aesthetics of textiles on the Silk Road

Author: Emma Dick (Middlesex University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the role that textiles play in communicating ‘authenticity’ and look at the processes, metaphors and politics of the ‘Silk Road’ as an ideological concept and ways in which it is actively implemented as a strategy for development by government, non-governmental agencies and businesses.

Long Abstract

This paper looks at the complex evolution of 'authentic' national identities in Central Asia through examining examples of dress and textiles products aimed largely at tourists as consumers. Central Asia is one of the economically least-integrated regions of the world and there is considerable international support for further development of the region. Development aid and cultural tourism play significant roles in the economy of the region. Consequently, these sources of income and resulting inter-agency dialogues influence and interact with 'traditional' textile design and production techniques and potentially generate a whole new design vocabulary for communicating national identity, that wavers between 'tradition' and 'modernity'. This supports the design and production of textiles, garments and portable souvenir products, which have a vital role to play in the construction and communication of identities internationally. Complex hybrid national, trans-national, and regional identities through dress and textiles are thus continually being constructed and communicated throughout Central Asia, in continual conversation with global value chains. Although women account for the majority of the workforce in fashion and textiles industries globally, a very small proportion of these women have any decision-making power in business. Thus the agency of women in structuring their own dress practices or creative output is highly complex. This paper examines theories, practices and politics of the business of fashioning 'authentic identity' in Central Asia and how these relationships govern ideas of identity, tradition and modernity for women in the region.

Les contraintes de l'authenticité: des artisans autochtones face aux canons d'un ʻart chamanique traditionnel

Author: Daniele Inda Andrio (EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

L'article analyse la genèse et l'évolution d'un produit d'artisanat mexicain : les tableaux huichols en fil de laine. Il explore également les contraintes auxquels doivent se soumettre les artisans en vue de la réalisation d'un tableau qui soit perçu comme ʻtraditionnelʼ

Long Abstract

Cette contribution analyse la genèse et l'évolution d'un produit d'artisanat mexicain : les tableaux huichols en fil de laine. Il explore également les contraintes auxquels doivent se soumettre les artisans en vue de la réalisation d'un tableau qui soit perçu comme ʻtraditionnelʼ. Nés comme des objets purement décoratifs, ces tableaux se sont progressivement affirmés comme des expressions de la vie religieuse de la population huichol. Cette évolution remonte aux années 1960 et 1970, lorsque des anthropologues ont incité des artisans à s'engager dans un parcours ʻd'initiation chamaniqueʼ et à se spécialiser dans la représentation de sujets religieux. Par la suite, de nombreuses publications ont érigé les œuvres de ces ʻartisans-chamanesʼ en prototypes de l'art huichol ʻauthentiqueʼ. En raison de cela, pour pouvoir réaliser des tableaux qui soient perçus comme ʻtraditionnelsʼ, les artisans contemporains doivent se soumettre à un processus d'apprentissage qui passe par la participation aux cérémonies religieuses, la consultation de monographies, la discussion avec des anthropologues, ainsi que par la réalisation de véritables enquêtes de terrain.

Ethnographies of heritage processes in colonial and postcolonial contexts in Cape Verde: the case of handicraft

Author: Rita Guimarães (FCSH/ ISCTE / CRIA)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to explore heritage policies related to handicraft in the Cape-Verdean colonial and post-colonial context. In particular it will focus on how these policies have been producing visible effects in a contemporary and future heritage regime for the craft development.

Long Abstract

This communication aims to share the partial results of an ongoing investigation about the heritage processes in the colonial and post-colonial contexts in Cape Verde. Proposes to examine how heritage and identity policies were and have been driven through the uses and appropriations of the local culture, specifically in the handicraft. Will examine, in particular, two important moments in the production and development of handicrafts in Cape Verde. At first, highlights the creation of the National Centre for Crafts in 1977, which was an important period of local handicraft revitalization. Secondly, the present time, considering a set of public policies that have been created in order to assign a better visibility to the Cape Verdean handicraft, in a gradual process of facing towards the tourist market. This paper seeks to explore the dynamics of power and knowledge embedded in heritage processes in its appropriations and uses of popular culture in order thus to identify the different political uses, as well as the identity dynamics of the agents involved in these processes.

Cultural policies in Galicia: craftmanship accreditation

Author: Elena Freire Paz (Universidade de Santiago de Compostela)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the use of handicrafts produced in Galicia as symbols of identity that support the political, social and cultural context of the region.

Long Abstract

In this paper I aim to describe and analyze the cultural policies implemented in Galicia as survival strategies within the European Union over the past 30 years. In this regard, the institutional intervention appears to have fostered a legitimization of political power while at the same time it has produced identity credentials that are based on difference and permit operating from an economic level in two ways: first, by encouraging the shift of the production network to the tertiary sector and, second, by serving as a brand image in the tourism sector. Examining these complex dynamics with multifaceted interests that are linked to strong tensions between local and global, economic and political, social and cultural levels, I will show to which point can vary the degrees of authenticity that can be used by contemporary Galician craft production.

Soviet footprint: the issue of "traditional" in Georgian Crafts

Author: Ana Shanshiashvili (Georgian Heritage Crafts Association)  email

Short Abstract

The paper will discuss Soviet footprint on Georgian Craft production by analyzing the ways in which certain modes of craft design were used for ideological reasons in Soviet times and its legacy we encounter today, ranging from mental issues to the question of aesthetics and marketability.

Long Abstract

Located in Caucasus, at the geographic meeting point between Europe and Asia, Georgia has maintained brilliant crafts traditions throughout centuries. Every single province had its own traditions, designs and patterns, which ensured the ethnographic mosaic of the country and its special attractiveness. And yet, despite these rich cultural assets, demonstrated through the ancient craft items on museum displays, the majority of crafts produced in today's Georgia have something in common and that's not the traditional design, but the aesthetics, which in turn, goes back to the Soviet times.

Being the post-Soviet republic, Georgia has experienced political and socio-economic changes in the recent past. During Soviet times crafts sector, was an advanced industry in the country. It was by then, when "national identity" became the matter for censorship, and the traditional designs were turned into stylized, "pseudo-national" forms, while craft objects became just "souvenirs", instead of being the items for everyday use. Subsidized by centralized government, craft sector was one of the hardest hit sectors when the old system collapsed, giving way to the series of problems we come across in today's Georgia.

The paper will be based on the results of the comprehensive countrywide study conducted in 2012 in the framework of the project funded by the European Union Eastern Partnership Culture programme and will analyze the ways in which certain modes of craft design were used for ideological reasons in Soviet Georgia and its legacy we encounter today, ranging from mental issues to the question of aesthetics and marketability.

From craftivism to craftwashing: craft and the new spirit of global capitalism

Author: Elke Gaugele, Dr. (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes the following interrelations between craftivism and craftwashing: The political setting of blue- and craftwashing within Global Governance politics; the ITCs mission for textile handicraft; the fashioning of social critique as a new spirit of global capitalism.

Long Abstract

In the 21st century a new relationship between craft and activism in political and social causes has been shaped by the term craftivism (Geer 2007) Through do-it-yourself spirit, web 2.0 platforms and activities such as guerilla knitting, crocheting tanks, or sewing blankets for peace, craftivists designed new strategies of political activism. At the same time one can observe that textiles and crafts visually, physically sensible represent and implement norms, values and orders that had been set up by the global agenda. The UN-Global Compact (1999) can be seen as historical starting point of the contemporary ethical turn in textiles, discussed here under the perspective of craftwashing. A new arena of aesthetic and politics of cloth, craft and labor arose where designers and brands compete as activists against climate change, ecological crisis, overconsumption, and exploitation of labor. Set up under the normative positing umbrella of the UN economic interest of global enterprises merge with norm posting claims from social, ecological and humanitarian anti-globalization critique. This is part of a politics of craft and craftwashing in the so-called third period of globalization after 1989, which is characterized by the expansion of neoliberalism.

My paper analyzes this interrelations between craftivism to craftwashing outlining the following strands: The political setting of bluewashing and craftwashing within Global Governance politics; the ITCs mission for fashion and African textile handicraft as tools for governance and development policy in cooperation with the luxury industry; the fashioning of social critique as a new spirit of global capitalism (Boltanski/Chiapello 2003).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.