Consuming Indian-ness

Anxieties about the nation, handicrafts, and artisans in contemporary India

Authored by: Sowparnika Balaswaminathan , Thomas Evan Levy

Routledge Handbook of Cultural and Creative Industries in Asia

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  December  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138959927
eBook ISBN: 9781315660509
Adobe ISBN:


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Although its origins could be traced back to the fifteenth century, it was in the early twentieth century that France began to crystallize laws that would regulate the production of wine by associating the quality of wines to the terroir (the natural environment) of their production. Known as ‘appellations of control’ (AOC), these laws eventually became Geographical Indications (GI) and were internationalized through the World Trade Organizations to be used by other countries. In Europe, GIs are used to index food materials and agricultural products to particular territories or towns. When India came to know of GIs, the logic of anchoring a food and its unique qualities to the land that produced it was transplanted to handicrafts. For scholars of Indian art, crafting communities, the handicraft industry and its consumers, handicrafts from India are believed to carry Indian history and culture, its very essence. This notion of Indian-ness in handicrafts has had a long and complicated history, and it is often accompanied by anxieties surrounding the state of handicrafts and the status of artisans, both of which, this chapter argues, are proxies for anxieties around the national identity of India. This chapter examines how Indian handicrafts and artisans have been historically constructed as the repositories of tradition from the colonial period until today. Furthermore, it explores the forms taken by the anxieties of present-day Indians who express their association with the country and its values through consuming crafts. When Indians consume handicrafts, they are also producing themselves, and thus, the health and character of these consumables become significant. This paper enquires into the act of consumption as an act of identity affirmation, and untangles the intersections between Indian nationalism, art and handicrafts, and the contemporary Indian subject.

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