Center For Embodied Knowledge’s Grant & Collaboration with Handloom Futures Trust
Can decolonisation be creative?
Take for example, a lot of Indian handcrafted objects in Western Museums. Some on display. Many others, in museum back rooms. Historically, some were bought, others looted. Nevertheless, centuries later, most of the objects that reached the western museums are still preserved and in good care.
As a colonised nation, we can be angry about our objects being somewhere else. We can demand their return back to our museums. And in some cases, perhaps that is justified, for only that is possible.
But in many cases, like those of Indian textiles preserved in the western museums, there are creative, collaborative and mutually nourishing possibilities that can be crafted.
Dr. Annapurna Mamidipudi with decades of experience in the Indian craft sector is exploring this cutting edge possibility with her team in the Handloom Futures Trust. She is currently at Technical University of Berlin, affiliated to the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, where she has an India group and a new project on colour.
The word used for a returning of the objects in formal parlance is “Restitution”. Annapurna is proposing to explore this word in a completely fresh way. The restitution of the object, in her understanding would mean the object shifting place, from one museum to another. The object would remain, what colonisation first did to it: ‘museumized’it … made it an object of display, . devoid of process, of life, of the ecology of home.
Restitution, seen from the perspective of the land that first birthed it, is a breathing back of life into the museumized object. Reconnecting, rewiring, revitalising the object by understanding, decoding, and re-owning the knowledge stored and still preserved in the object.
So the museum objects become like a mother-seed. And restitution becomes like the replanting of the knowledge seeds back in the land once colonised. The ownership of knowledge returns back, as living processes to the culture, the land of origin, its home.
This is radical. For both, the coloniser and the colonised. It opens pathways to creatively let go of the historical burden of colonisation.
Give us a chance to study, and we will get back our living knowledge, which is preserved in your museums, and we must say, preserved well. Thank you, and let us get on with it. You keep the old, we will recreate many many many hundreds of such new ones, now. We can do it. Our processes are still alive.
You see, take for example the Kanjeevaram saree with a fine 3mm temple border, Annapurna just saw in the Ethnological museum, Berlin. It remains an object for them. Stunning, gorgeous but still an object. But, back in India, we still have the knowledge, the skills, the living practise to re-learn the weaves of our ancestors, to re-own the knowledge. As a contemporary, living tradition.
If that isn’t radical, what is! After all these years, our basic knowledge remains, fresh, alive and confident enough to reclaim processes that once were ours.
Center for Embodied Knowledge (CEK), which I have the honour of co-founding with Hari Kiran Vadlamani and Sunny Narang, is proud to announce its first funding to Annapurna’s Handloom Futures Trust to explore a decolonisation project on restitution in European Museums the seeds of which have been already laid in Max Planck Institute conference held in May this year in Germany.