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Title: Surviving modernism- Investigating modernity in local craft narratives
Supervisor: Prof U. A. Athavankar
Key words: Un-authored artefact, Khilona, Situated, Un-situated, Emulation, Craftsmanly thinking, fuzzy boundaries, Worldview
In the contemporary design scenario, despite the thrust on the individual genius, there are ample instances of events, actions and objects that have not originated from or under the directions of a single authorial vision. This study has coined the term 'un-authored' to refer to the produce or artifacts of such communities that practice situated learning, production and consumption in the absence or lack of a single authorship; specifically the Benarasi community of wooden Khilona makers. How are such un-authored artifacts conceived: the process of thinking, making and changing them?
Particularly in relation to Benaras, it is of interest to know how craftsmanly thinking enables multiple Benarasi craftsmen to separately conceptualize different parts of a Khilona in the absence of a single authorial vision or centralised planning and yet reflect coherence and Benarasipan or Benarasiness. This problem of synchronising craftsmanly decisions of multiple producers is further augmented by the rising unfamiliar demands of un-situated consumers. Here, the Benarasi craftsman has to perform a delicate balance of protecting his identity and values without affecting his earnings for subsistence. Will the craftsman survive the hegemony of the authored world and the demands of un-situated consumption?
Interestingly, the study of the vernacular Benarasi lexicon, feature analysis of 40 artifacts along with 4 client-vendor case studies revealed that a shared worldview enables the Benarasi community of Khilona makers to protect their identity as well as produce leaderless change. Worldview shapes and in turn is shaped by the craft practice. The study revealed not only the worldview governed typical notion of a Benarasi Khilona as a cultural representation serving an enculturative function but also multiple sets of categories that explained the large variety of Khilonas as well as category-based change in the Benarasi craftsmanship. Over time, as categories died so did their physical manifestations. In recent years, new categories of Decoration ka Khilona and Fancy kaam have also emerged to support the preferences of the un-situated consumer, manifesting a new variety of Khilonas. It is at the worldview acceptable common intersection points of the multiple ways of categorisation that craftsmanly thinking is able to produce and change a Benarasi Khilona shaped by conventions, canons and beliefs.
As the multiple categories are governed by the shared worldview of the community, consequently changes made in concurrence within and between categories also become
acceptable to the worldview. Therefore, the community showed openness to change Khilonas within a category that is vertically through evolution from a chronological precedent to its successor and also horizontally that is in-between precedents of two categories. Further, the study pointed out that apart from evolutionary improvisation, induced or willful assimilation of situated or un-situated features is the largest source of change in the Benarasi craft production. Intriguingly, fuzzy boundaries of some of the community held categories also accepted deviant features and un-typical changes that are not fully acceptable to the worldview.
Surprisingly, the widespread use of the practice of borrowing, modification and assimilation of features from within and outside the practice is rooted in the worldview sanction to 'copying'. Copying, re-interpreted as emulation in this study is a legitimate form of learning, assessing and sanctioning change. Lack of emulation is a sign of low acceptance of change within the community and may seriously hamper its survival, therefore emulation of traditional Khilonas, innovations as well as client orders are encouraged in the absence of any copyrights or IPR issues. This makes leaderless craft knowledge and innovation a community property equally accessible to all members irrespective of its source of origin.
The almost saintly detachment of the craftsman from the ownership of his own work, absence of a framework of protection of craftsmanly knowledge and most importantly the strategy of survival adopted by the Benarasi community in the absence of any overt dialogues or planning, prompted this study to re-think craft from not an anthropological perspective but from the vantage point of a visualisation strategy. Therefore, this study peeps into the mind of the Benarasi craftsmen to unravel the thinking that pushes him into action, change and failure faced with the unprecedented challenge of designing for an unfamiliar consumer at a pace of change that threatens to be disruptive.