Accepted Paper:

Extrapolating stitches: embroidery and Rann Utsav  


Michele Hardy (University of Calgary)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation will discuss the recent ‘ethnic-turn’ in embroidery produced in northern Kutch, India. With the introduction in 2006 of a State-run mega-festival, local women’s relationship with embroidery—increasingly charged since Partition—is shifting in profound and unexpected ways.

Paper long abstract:

Since 2006 Rann Utsav, a large and very popular cultural festival has taken place along the southern reaches of the Rann of Kutch. The Rann is a large salt flat—romantically termed 'the white desert' by festival organizers—that stretches along the northern frontier of Kutch, separating India from Pakistan.

The festival marks only the most recent chapter in a narrative of change that began with Partition in 1947, the erosion of the environment in the early 1960's, changes to livelihoods in the late 60's through today. Within this period, embroidery has shifted from a medium intimately associated with women's bodies and community identity to a commodity produced for sale. The festival is attended by thousands of (mainly) Indian tourists many of whom are anxious for a souvenir—Kutchi embroidery being particularly well known and highly desirable.

Local embroidery produced for the festival market draws on a repertoire of established stitches, colours, motifs and designs—selected to attract buyers as well as distance those buyers from the embodied intimacy embroidery once represented. Contemporary embroidery produced by the Mutwa, for example, negotiates with an evolving sense of 'ethnic' textiles, fed by popular Indian films, advertisements, television programs etcetera that is at odds with the specificity of their 'traditional' embroidery. In this presentation, I examine the 'ethnic-turn' in embroidery and how it has been driven not only by market-forces but local embroiderers' growing ambivalence and a desire to be modern on their own terms.

Panel WIM-CHAT05
Fashionable tradition: innovation and continuity in the production and consumption of handmade textiles and crafts