Accepted paper:

In and out of time: Skilled memory, narratives performances and the construction of value among artisans in Old Delhi


Mira Mohsini

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I discuss the use of different temporal frameworks in which narrative performances are enacted by artisans. I argue that these instances of “skilled memory” serve to define meanings of value in artisans’ conceptions work and craftsmanship.

Paper long abstract:

Artisans of traditional crafts, the world over, face declining access to markets and fewer livelihood options. Those who remain craft producers are often in positions where they must produce things to satisfy increasingly overseas markets that demand more quantity in exchange for lower quality. Value of work, thus, tends to be assessed by actors who are disembedded from the day-to-day life and life-world of artisans. But how do artisans themselves define value in their work? In this paper, I suggest that "artful practices" of memory and narrative performances can be understood as instantiations of value and articulations of authenticity. I discuss two forms of narrative performances among Muslim artisans in Old Delhi that employ differing temporal frameworks. The first involves the use of linear time to articulate an idealised past, which often emerges when experiencing the present as ruins that one is "left with". These disorientations are offset by invoking a particular past that reaffirms artisans' position as valued and authentic. The second artful practice is the recollection of sayings and anecdotes that have been passed down within families and from teacher to student. These rely on a different sense of time that is not based on linearity and continuity, but instead on the collapse of linear time such that characters and spaces become imbued with the moral authority of the perduring moment. I argue that this form of narrative performance builds a moral grounding for articulating value with regard to craft production.

panel P13
Arts of memory: skilful practices of living history