Art and Craft and the Politics of Re-inventing Tradition in Postcolonial Spaces 
Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi (University of Nigeria, Nsukka)
Chidi Ugwu (University of Nigeria, Nsukka)
Brunei Gallery - B201
Saturday 2 June, 14:30-16:00, 16:30-18:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

Examples abound across the world of how indigenous peoples have renewed their collective spirit and heritage through the instrumentality of art and craft. The experiences of Australian aboriginal artists, Ainu artists and the Igbo Uli exponents in eastern Nigeria and others provide models of how craft can reinvent and promote culture and heritage as well as reinforce identities through its populist tendencies.

Long Abstract

Indigenous peoples all over the world have various means of expressing their art and ethno-aesthetics. For the Igbo of eastern Nigeria, for instance, their heritage cannot be fully discussed without a look at the almost extinct Uli body and wall painting practiced by Igbo women. In Australia as well as Japan, indigenous peoples continue to re-invent their culture and heritage through the soft power of art and craft. In the Igbo experience, the decline of Uli art in the postcolonial period is a reflection of the sorry state of cultural heritage in Igbo land and Nigeria in general. In response to this decline, the United States Embassy in Nigeria recently supported workshops for students and village women to adapt Uli motifs in craft, utility design and econo-art and to create a new frontier in the creative industries, while challenging notions of contemporaneity and modernity. Using the Uli experiment, Australian and Ainu successes and other similar cases as examples, this panel invites papers on the capacity of craft and econo-art to embody, promote and renew cultural experiences, ethno-aesthetics and heritage as in the bid to confront the challenges and conflicts at the heart of postcoloniality.

Accepted papers:


Chukwuebuka Dunu (Sankofa Centre for Art and Heritage )
Chuu Krydz Ikwuemesi (University of Nigeria, Nsukka)

Paper short abstract:

Other than cast Igbo ethno-aesthetics and heritage in light of fetishism, they can be appropriated in innovative ways to serve contemporary mundane needs through craft and econo-art as has been recently demonstrated by some artists and groups east of Nigeria.

Paper long abstract:

The acclaimed dynamism of culture would presuppose that cultural resources and expressions would take on new essences and meanings in the mill of time. This has not been the case with much of the arts and materiality of most post-colonial peoples. In most cases, as in Igbo land, what transpires in the theatre of the post-colonial is a seeming effacement of local idioms after a jostling in hybridity. This has been the case with much of Igbo arts and crafts which seem to be fizzling out in recent times. This is often due to lack of heritage education and negative effects of Pentecolstalism. Over the years, Igbo arts and materiality have not been critically explored as anvils on which new vision of the society and its identity can be forged both in graphic and economic terms. Beyond the shadow of fetishism now cast over vast cultural resources in Igbo land (including uli), this paper argues that this can be done, not by flogging esoteric paradigms and tendencies that only narrow the appeal of, and access to, these resources, but by reinventing them to meet contemporary needs and aspiration of the people as tools for cultural re-armament and socio-economic development. Using the efforts of The Art Republic at creating new crafts through the agency of uli and other transformed materiality, the paper concludes that craft and econo-art, as effective culture-carriers, are flexible grounds where culture and heritage can be renegotiated, not just to reaffirm or re-enforce identity, but to cultivate to sustainable end to hunger for creative people.


Ayami Nakatani (Okayama University)

Paper short abstract:

Selecting and listing cultures as heritage involves decontextualization. This paper examines the case of peripheral weaving communities in Indonesia, where their textiles have been recognized as part of common heritage of the nation and thus their group identities are now open to negotiation.

Paper long abstract:

When discussing cultural heritage, especially in the context of the UNESCO program, many scholars have problematized seemingly inevitable, highly politicized act of selecting. Yet another, equally problematic feature of the UNESCO designation is the creation of "a list". By being listed in the inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, a certain cultural practice such as the making of crafts is taken out of the original context, including particular usage informed by its socio-cultural background; they enter a new set of relationships with other similar practices, selected by their respective governments and put into the list. As a result, these cultural practices and expressions will be "accorded a value of a different and more general kind than any value they previously had" (Hafstein 2009:104).

This process of "heritigization" may also occur within the nation-states. In the case of Indonesia, which is the focus of this paper, regional cultural expressions were endorsed by the central government as emblems of the cultural pluralism of the Republic. Carefully selected and monitored, such diversity of cultural traits was employed to consolidate the post-colonial project of national integration.

This paper will discuss the ways in which this act of selecting and listing cultures have influenced local communities and people who have made and used hand-woven textiles in the peripheral islands of eastern Indonesia. When their products become recognized as part of a common heritage of the nation, new usage and designs start to stimulate the renewed negotiation of group identities.