ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Making of an Artisan: Kashmiri textile artisans and the modes of self-identification


Kumar Amit - Azim Premji University, School of Arts and Sciences, Bengaluru, India


09 – Making Artisans: Artisanal Lives and Production in South Asia


While the state and various elite groups – from Karkhanadar’s, industrialists to various researchers have been busy naming and describing an artisan, the artisans themselves do not always rely on these descriptions from above. Drawing on my ethnographic work conducted over half a decade, I demonstrate that the textile artisans of Kashmir (particularly spinners and weavers) draw from a variety of sources like Islamic theology, Sufi hagiographies, bhakti traditions, and from their own crafts/work styles and cultures etc. to create an image which does not always fit the elite narratives. Using the theoretical insights of James C. Scott (Scott, 1990), I argue that while the various ‘hidden transcripts’ deployed by the textile artisans of Kashmir might not too helpful for them to tide over the economic marginalization, they are very helpful in challenging the ‘social’, if not levelling it completely. This I argue is what in some ways separates Kashmiri artisans from artisans based in various caste-based societies of South Asia. I end by arguing that this difference allows the Kashmiri artisans to escape various forms of violence and ‘humiliations’ which lower caste artisans of subcontinent could/can/not.