Accepted Paper:

Making Bithooras  
Andrew Burton (Newcastle University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores a collaboration between a western artist and village women from Delhi. It considers the significance of 'bithooras', cow-dung stores as material vehicles for an experimental approach to generating new creative interactions based in a fast disappearing cultural tradition

Paper long abstract:

The paper takes as its starting point a contemporary art/craft project held in the National Crafts Musuem, New Delhi in 2011. In this project Andrew Burton and a group of village women from Delhi collaborated to create of a group of bithooras, the first time such objects had been presented in a museum context. Bithooras are fuel stores of a unique form found only in Delhi. They are made entirely by hand, using only one material - cow dung, and without any mechanical intervention. Bithooras are constructed from thousands of ophlas, the hand-sized cow dung cakes which are widely used as fuel in northern India. The bithoora is completed once stacked ophlas have been clad with gobar - raw cow dung - and this cladding inscribed with patterns and designs.

'Making Bithooras' examines a perspective on collaborative working where participants are from contrasting backgrounds with few cultural or linguistic commonalities. Drawing together contemporary visual art and a traditional artisanal process, the project explores Indian and European sensibilities for the relationship between structure, material and pattern.

Environmental conditions in Delhi, and proposed restrictions on polluting activities, means that the continued existence of bithooras, by definition temporary objects, is threatened. Almost entirely un-researched in terms of their anthropological or cultural significance, bithooras are becoming increasingly rare, and at risk of vanishing altogether as the city expands. What role can contemporary art play in ensuring that a record is established, and further anthropological research encouraged into this distinctive example of cultural heritage?

Panel P022
Doing, making, collaborating: art as anthropology