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Invisible People (past and present) [Jul. 23rd, 2016|07:28 pm]
muuranker
Over on FB, my friend  lisa_marli shared this: http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/young-black-and-victorian/ - for which many thanks (please do head over there and have a look).

As I noted on FB, I wasn't happy with the title "These Gorgeous Photos of Victorian Women of Color Will Change Your View of History".  And the premis that some people don't know that there were Black people in 19th century North America.  Sure, there are people who don't know that.  But are they likely to click?

More likely are people who knew about slavery, but who have not seen (many) images of Black women of this period and/or only images of enslaved women, or women in dire poverty.

Looking at these pictures, I realised how little I know about the history of women's fashion in the 19th century - and particularly, in California.  I'd have liked to read more about the hair styles and clothes these women were wearing.  About the hair-dressers and dress-makers.  About women like the sitters, in terms of age/date of photo, class, etc. (sadly the images are mostly divorced from such infomation - while preserving the images is laudable, criticism for institutional loss of the metadata is called for).

But returing to the them of 'people who don't know': I've thought about this some more.  One of the most profound conferences I have been to in "ahem" years of being a heritage professional was a conference of people with learning disabilities.  I think I'd been encouraged to go because I was at the time very interested in the use of Makaton in museum interpretation (https://www.makaton.org/, if you are interested - and yes, we did use it in an easy-read guide to Buckinghamshire County Museum).  The people with learning disabilities presented as part of the conference the results of some research into their top ten information needs.  They included 'access to information about my health', 'access to information about housing', 'access to information about my rights' and things which you'ld expect in the top 10 of anyone's information needs.  But I was awed that among these was 'Access to Black history'.  The man who presented this said something like "I want to find out why people like me are here".

As heritage professionals, we let people down if we don't think enough about those who don't know. If we assume that ignorance comes from wilful neglect. Particularly we should think of those who are struggling to access crucial information about health, training opportunities, benefits and so on, but give a high priority to Black history. So much as I'd like to know about the hairstyles in these photos, I'll take a step back - first, those who prioritise "I want to find out why people like me are here" over information I take for granted is a click away.


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Infertility in Medieval and Early Modern Europe [Jul. 23rd, 2016|03:00 pm]
muuranker
For all my friends who are writing with settings in Medieval Europe or Early Modern England and are interested in gender or reproduction: new volume of the Social History of Medicine is focussing on fertility - http://shm.oxfordjournals.org/content/current.

As well as these, are there are two on colonial medicine (malaria in Korea, chronic disease management in British colonies), and the review section is focussed on managing mental health.

It's rather annoying, usually there are only a couple of must-read articles, this time, all of them are!
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The value of innovation [Jul. 21st, 2016|07:46 pm]
muuranker
This is a recursive post, in that in part it is about innovation, but it is also in itself an innovation - I'm trying to see how to link up with GoodReads (akicolj - advice, please!).  Reflecting on what I'm reading seems more a Lj kind of think than Fb.

So here's the quote on goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7752929-so-i-don-t-see-the-theme-of-the-story-as

I'm hoping that comes through accessibly, at least.

It's from an interview with Gabriela Santiago in  Lightspeed Magazine, June 2016: People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! Special Issue it says the interview is with Nalo Hopkinson, but she's 'just' the editor.  Gabriela's story, (“As Long As It Takes to Make the World”) is well worth a read, too (lots of other good ones).

So, what Gabriela says is "“So I don’t see the theme of the story as nature versus science. I see it as a conflict between demanding and understanding, between the kinds of labor that our society values or doesn’t value, “innovators” versus “maintainers.”'

I was surprised to read this, as it's a viewpoint I've only come across in the (traditional/heritage) crafts community.  Crafts are an area where (in the UK) a vase that you can't put a cut flower in is valued above a mug you can drink tea out of. Even though the mug is made with more skill. Because the former is 'innovative', but the latter is not. And the amount of creativity is the same. So the former is gets lots (well, a barely adequate amount) of goverment support, but the latter gets none.

It struck me that there are, on the other hand, parts of our lives where innovation is not valued.  If you see 'difference' as innovation.  If you have a daughter, for example, or two, and then avoid further pregnancies, in a culture where the norm is to have daughters until you have sons, women without brothers are an innovation.  That's the only example I could come up with that actually involved parental choice - there are many where people become innovators or maintainers without intervention.

The other thing that struck me from Gabriela's interview is that her family are living examples that the individual is not 'an innovator' or 'a maintainer' - the two peoples of the world-becoming that she presents in the story. Which is part of the point of the story.  It's a brilliant story! 
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Up the Craftworkers! Promoting the voice and products of artisans: WCMT sixth blog [Feb. 20th, 2016|08:17 am]
muuranker
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My Winston Churchill Memorial Trust travel fellowship to India concluded four days of (mainly) meetings in Delhi. Alongside the meetings, I also visited Dilli Haat (a village-market-in-a-metropalis) and the Crafts Museum, and also visited a couple of mass-market craft brands' shops.
The two main focii of my interest can be summarised as finding out more about what is being done to document crafts, and what is being done to ensure they survive for at least one more generation.  Most of the NGOs I met this week do at least a little of both, some more of one, some more of the other. In all our conversations, the voice of the craftsperson was a recurring theme: whether it was as a creator of the documentation of a craft or as a promoter of their products.
Our discussions explored the potential of collectivisation - a word I don't think I've ever heard in connection with craft in the UK) - and the spiritual source of craft, which again I had not heard about in the UK, but expands our understanding of the value of crafts for identity and well-being.  More familiar were areas including  cooperatives, fair-trade, literacies, supply chains, accreditation of prior knowledge and much more. I am travelling home tomorrow with a full notebook. My self-declared interest in the preservation of craft _skills_ seemed a little step away from the viewpoint of those who I talked with, all of whom focused on the craftsperson and their communities - a term which stretches from the family who assist in production to the international consumers.

Crafts museum:the external walls of the shop/restaurant building are painted in different regional styles, some with illustration of craftspeople:
In one part of the museum, craftspeople are selling their work.Sadly, only a few (a miniatures painter and two men making pottery animals) were demonstrating. There is a whole village of houses/courtyards typical of many regions, and obviously set up for demonstrations, but with the exception of a pair of dogs, these were deserted.
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A place for craft - fifth WCMT post [Feb. 18th, 2016|04:59 pm]
muuranker
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I had only a short time in Lucknow, flying in on Saturday afternoon, having Sunday as a tourist, and visiting another part of SEWA on Monday before flying in the evening to Delhi.

SEWA Lucknow is like other SEWA organisations, lead by social mission.  It concentrates on a single craft chikan embroidery. The act of embroidering is chikankari (which sounds to my ear exactly like "chicken curry" - something I haven't eaten here as I am following my Diabetes Specialist Nurse's advice and eating only vegetarian food).

During my day off, I noticed many SEWA shops through the town, and our rickshaw drivers were all taking to us about SEWA chikankari as something we should divert to see.  Sadly, I learned that SEWA has lost control of its brand, and virtually every shop and workshop in Lucknow claims to be SEWA. Bindiya asked many interesting questions about the architecture and use of space in the British Residency (destroyed in the Indian Rebellion of 1857).  I felt that a small investent in interpretation would enhance the place a great deal.  We later visited the Bara Imambara (an Imambara is - according to Wikipedia - congregation hall for Shia commemoration ceremonies), so another place of rememberance.  It was built as make-work, during a famine.

At SEWA Lucknow, we talked about craft and tourism, and identity-creation and sense of place as two of the values which a craft may posess. They have some exiting plans and new developments in this area, which could grow to include the monuments, bringing creativity into the tourist experience.


Chikan shop (not claiming to be SEWA) in the street outside Jama Masjid Mosque.
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Conversations on Design - fourth WCMT blog [Feb. 18th, 2016|03:19 am]
muuranker
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Also while I was in Ahmedabad I had meetings with present and past staff and students of the National Institute of Design, and with Adhaar, an NGO which supports craftspeople in various ways, including a fiilm festival and access to low cost, high quality graphic design.

'Innovative' craft here doesn't mean what it does in the UK.  Here, using an embroidery technique historically used for saris, on new products such as table-runners is innovation. In the UK, innovation is synonymous with "cutting edge" ; a paradigm shift is 'innovation', a shift in response to market demand, supply of raw materials or similaris not enough of a paradigm shift.

I learned a lot about the history of intervention in craft in this part of my visit.  At one point, I decided that I should have asked the WCMT if they could provide me with a time-travel component, as the India I reall should be visiting was the India of fifty or so years ago, when craft was seen as a major component of the new state, and treated accordingly.  But soon I realised that today's India is the one which I can learn from, although the passion of a state for its own living heritage is something which could hope to have.

I have been imagining that - away from the politics of India's future - Gandhi and Churchill chatted about their shared love of crafts: Gandhi congratulating Churchill on mastering flemish bond, Churchill asking Gandhi about regional variation in hand looms. In my creation, the differences in approaches to craft of these two men lie under a friendly conversation.

No images from these meetigs, but here is a foretaste of my next stop, Lucknow.  This is part of the British Residency, showing damage from the first Indian Mutiny.

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Conversations on Design - fourth WCMT blog [Feb. 17th, 2016|05:23 am]
muuranker
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Also while I was in Ahmedabad I had meetings with present and past staff and students of the National Institute of Design, and with Adhaar, an NGO which supports craftspeople in various ways, including a fiilm festival and access to low cost, high quality graphic design.

'Innovative' craft here doesn't mean what it does in the UK.  Here, using an embroidery technique historically used for saris, on new products such as table-runners is innovation. In the UK, innovation is synonymous with "cutting edge" ; a paradigm shift is 'innovation', a shift in response to market demand, supply of raw materials or similaris not enough of a paradigm shift.

I learned a lot about the history of intervention in craft in this part of my visit.  At one point, I decided that I should have asked the WCMT if they could provide me with a time-travel component, as the India I reall should be visiting was the India of fifty or so years ago, when craft was seen as a major component of the new state, and treated accordingly.  But soon I realised that today's India is the one which I can learn from, although the passion of a state for its own living heritage is something which could hope to have.

I have been imagining that - away from the politics of India's future - Gandhi and Churchill chatted about their shared love of crafts: Gandhi congratulating Churchill on mastering flemish bond, Churchill asking Gandhi about regional variation in hand looms. In my creation, the differences in approaches to craft of these two men lie under a friendly conversation.

No images from these meetigs, but here is a foretaste of my next stop, Lucknow.  This is part of the British Residency, showing damage from the first Indian Mutiny.

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Women's Work - third WCMT blog post [Feb. 14th, 2016|06:47 am]
muuranker
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One thing several people told me in Shillong: looking after (intangible) culture is women's work.  The intersections of crafts (and other heritage) with gender, class/caste, ethnicity, and other aspects of diversity are very strong, and providing much food for thought.

In Ahmedabad I visited several parts of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA).  This originated as a Trade Union then created a co-operative bank, and other co-operatives followed.  In addition to visiting offices, I went for a day to the semi-desert Patan region of Gujerat to see the Hansiba museum established by embroiderers / embroidery training centre, and to the SEWA Design centre in Ahmedabad, which has training facilities and plans to establish a library/archive for use by craftspeople "becoming their own designers". The Design Centre is in a newly restored and protected building, and sees SEWA moving into closer alliance with the mainstream heritage sector.  Historically, the focus has been on women's rights rather than heritage protection.




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What is lost if a craft is lost? - second WCMT blog post [Feb. 13th, 2016|04:21 pm]
muuranker
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Dr Erik de Maaker asked at the INTACH conference I attended in Shillong “What is lost if a cosmology is lost”.  It is a key question which gets to the heart of many of the debates we are having about craft in the UK, and more generally Intangible Heritage / Living Heritage in the UK.  Asking this question in the setting of North East India places it in a very different context: one in which craft, cosmology and other cultural practices are seen as inherently belonging to the indigenous tribes(1). A possible answer to the question came from the suggestion by Prof Galla later in the week that we should explore the use of indices of wellbeing in evaluating museum practice – perhaps we should be looking at the survival of craft skills, among other aspects of living heritage, in this way.

One speaker talked of designers ‘adding value’ – something which is commonly said in the UK, and underpins the funding which goes to support design and innovation.  In this context, however, perhaps we should instead talk about design as ‘replacing value’ or ‘refreshing value’ – either value which has previously been lost, or value which is actually there already, but not in a form which is wanted by the end user (or, to put it another way, the value inherent in living heritage is one which is often not the value of the dominant culture and a designer from the dominant culture is needed to mediate).  In this way, the insistence on the ‘bottom up’ approach – that culture should be defined by communities(2) and protected by them – means that the dominant discourse of the people of the plains / globalisation / authorised education is allowed to both wash its hands of its own domination and place the responsibility for dealing with the effects on the survival of culture with those who have least access to resources.

Dr Oinam Hemlata Devi presented a very interesting paper on the use of insects as medicine. She noted 5 ways that foods are classified, including a food/not food division which in India is profane/sacred (as for example Brahmins classification of food into vegetarian / meats) but in the West as natural/synthetic foods).  Reflecting on this, I wondered if Intangible cultural heritage was similarly divided: many speakers assumed a profane/sacred division in other areas of living heritage (e.g. ‘this is a sacred dance’ ‘this is not a sacred dance, but a dance for guests’).  In the West, for crafts, there is a chimera of ‘real crafts’ which are (a) handmade, (b) rural, (c) timeless/old-fashioned/rooted in history/unchanging (d) made of natural materials which are profane (suitable for everyday use) but objects which are factory made from synthetic or exotic materials and have new-to-us designs are not ‘suitable’ and should be eschewed as bad-to-use every day - in the eyes of some people.  Others have it the other way round.

Just some first thoughts ....

(1) Erik de Maakar noted that 'indigenous' and 'tribes' are "death trap" terms.
(2) Another "death trap" term.

Today's photos are of the Shillong Charter outside the Don Bosco Museum and some baskets for sale in a market in Shillong. They are not here yet due to broken internet .....


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An Unexpected Encouter with Dung (Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to India, part one) [Feb. 5th, 2016|04:28 pm]
muuranker
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[Current Location |Shillong, Meghalaya, India]

My trip started with the East Coast Mainline suffering from storms on 29th January.  Fortunately, all I had to do to do that day was reach King's Cross.

Following an event for Free UK Genealogy on the Saturday, I headed off to Heathrow at 5pm, arriving in Delhi the following day.  I will largely be concentrating here on the topic of my fellowship - ways of making heritage crafts sustainable - but I will just note here that my experience of my first week in India is that it is very difficult to see.  Delhi Airport was so foggy/smoggy that I could not see the runways from the terminal building.

At the airport, I met up with Bindiya my companion for the next three weeks, and we flew to Guwahati in Assam.  Which was dark by the time we arrived.  We stayed for one night in a bed-and-breakfast, where the owners were interested in my purpose in visiting India, partly because one of them is the creator/founder of Elrhino paper (http://www.elrhinopaper.com/).  So my first interview with a craft entrepreneur was totally unplanned.


Elrhino Paper is an excellent example of how a craft's value can derive from its position in a supply chain.  In this case, because the products are made from materials which would otherwise be waste: elephant and rhino poo, cotton waste from a local underwear factory, and otherwise inedible / unusable plant materials.  The economic value derives from providing employment, and from the profits which are used to conserve the elephants and rhinos.

I will be gathering together full reports on each meeting, and will put a link to them when they are up.

The following day we left for Shillong in Meghalaya (for those struggling with geography: Guwahati and Shillong are in North East India: the bit that is above/to the right of Bangladesh. Guwahati is on the Bramaputra River which flows East-West along the bottom of the Himalayas).  To the south of the Bramaputrah is the Shillong plateau).  We left at five (just getting light) and drove straight into the clouds which give Meghalaya its name ("the abode of clouds").  Of which more, later ...
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