This panel invites scholars to reflect critically on the growing interface between 'ethnic' arts and design, and its place in the geopolitics of the global marketplace.
Commonly defined as handcrafted commodities for the global market which advertise (and are advertised by) their 'indigeneity', 'tribal', 'folk', or 'ethnic' arts and artefacts are often construed as the embodiment of the authentic, exotic 'Other' of capitalist modernity. Recently, traditional artefacts and techniques have also begun making their way into the discourse, practices and spaces of contemporary design. From the newly established Etno-Dizaijn Festiwal in Krakow, Poland, to the African & African Caribbean Design Diaspora Festival in London, design is being harnessed to re-think traditional techniques, patterns, materials for contemporary visual culture, interiors, and fashion. Conversely, under the terms 'ethically traded' or 'sustainable', programmes such as Thailand's OTOP ('One District One Product') and projects such as 'Contemporary Souvenir' (Ulster, Northern Ireland) promote collaboration between craftsmen and academically trained designers to develop new income streams for artisans, creating a mutual exchange of design concepts, tools and media. Such crossovers and interventions, however, exist as part of specific commercial and ideological regimes of power with corresponding notions of creative agency, aesthetics, and community which must be negotiated by participating actors.
This panel invites scholars to reflect critically on the growing interface between 'ethnic' arts and design, and its place in the geopolitics of the global marketplace. Amongst the themes welcomed are the challenges of sustainability and recycling; the introduction and impact of new technologies and digital media on craft production; the commercialization of pattern and design; as well as issues of copyright and changing discourses of authenticity.
Author:Ivan Kwek (National University of Singapore)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores the politics and poetics of designing a public space with a 'distinctive cultural identity'. This space is to be a civic centre that 'reflects' the Malay community in Singapore, to be used for Malay arts, heritage, performances, businesses and events.
Paper long abstract:
To design and develop a civic centre that is ethnically-themed is an understandably challenging task. What are the elements that will mark the space as ethnic? How does one negotiate the variety of claims and competing priorities? What about the politics of cultural authenticity and questions of sustainability? How are particular arts and art forms imagined as embodying the ethnic identity in question? Against a backdrop of these issues, this paper explores the politics and poetics of designing a space with a 'distinctive cultural identity'; in this case, one that 'reflects' the Malay community in Singapore. This civic centre is tentatively construed as a space for Malay arts, heritage, and performances, as well as for Malay businesses and events. Read against ostensibly similar spaces marked for other ethnic identities, namely, the Chinese and Indians, the civic centre may be understood as articulating a particular vision of a multi-ethnic society, both as political aspiration and a national brand.
Author:Kala Shreen (Centre for Creativity Heritage and Development)
Paper short abstract:
This paper critically analyzes the "Sungudi" project of World Crafts Council in the context of the dynamics of production, consumption and circulation of the ethnic crafts of Tamilnadu.
Paper long abstract:
This paper critically analyzes the project "...On the Road to Revival - Sungudi" which has been conceived by the World Crafts Council. This project will be examined in the wider context of the changing dynamics of the production, consumption and circulation of the ethnic crafts of Tamilnadu that is influenced and propelled by globalization, tourism, arts and crafts activism and so on. The Sungudi craft is positioned as representing Tamilnadu's heritage and as a fading traditional skill thereby evoking feelings of regional pride on the one hand and feelings of morality and social responsibility towards their revival/survival on the other hand which are strategically incorporated into the marketing and sale of these products. The authenticity of the Sungudi production was established during its sales by involving craftspersons from the lineage of Sungudi designing and who have hereditarily practised this skill. This project has also brought about an interface between the Sungudi designing and art education in Chennai. "Reviving Sungudi" also became instrumental in furthering the organization's goals of perpetuating traditional skills and facilitating economic betterment and empowerment of artisans. The project also sought to commercialize the Sungudi by widening its market base through exhibitions and sales in a high end fashion shopping street and networks with mainstream retailers. Thus the paper explores the Sungudi project through interlinked notions of ethnic crafts, creativity and agency in the dynamics of material production and consumption in contemporary Tamilnadu.