|What is lost if a craft is lost? - second WCMT blog post
||[Feb. 13th, 2016|04:21 pm]
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 .....