Telling Colour by Smell, Memory and Song: The Innovation of Traditional Craft in South India — Annapurna Mamidipudi

Craft producers in India stand in the shadow of deep divisions – rich/​poor, urban/​rural, modern/​traditional, Brahmin/​Dalit, educated scientist/​illiterate labour, and so on. These divisions become further entrenched when knowledge owned by dominant social groups is privileged over others’ knowledge, thus reinforcing existing hierarchies.Yet through the claiming, contesting and attributing of knowledge, craft ensembles of production and consumption are able to change what is valued as knowledge. Such acts have the power to disrupt inequalities as well perpetuate them in existing social order, thus are always political, demonstrating how inequality is outcome of some, rather than inherent to all, craft ensembles. In this talk, I explore a framework for the innovation trajectory of traditional craftspeople in South India and their modern urban customers. I do this by framing colour as knowledge. Knowledge of colour, in the absence of patents and copyrights, I will show, is claimed and attributed through the innovation of material, of socio-technical ensembles that produce and consume colour, and of the meaning bestowed on the objects of colour –in other words, through telling colour by smell, memory and song. 

Annapurna Mamidipudi works at the Deutsches Museum at Munich, as researcher on the project Weaving as Technical Mode of Existence’. She completed her PhD in the study of Science, Technology and Modern Culture in Maastricht University supervised by Wiebe Bijker, in 2016. Using concepts from cognitive science as well as traditional Carnatic music she showed how innovation and creativity in science and art follow similar cognitive processes. Before taking up the Ph.D, she set up and worked in an NGO Dastkar Andhra from 1992-08 to conserve traditional craft livelihoods in South India. Under the aegis of Smt. R Vedavalli, senior musician and academic, she produced the CD and Book on Shaji Maharaja’s opera, Pallaki Seva Prabandhamu” for the The Pallaki Project” in October 2013.Her research interests include the study of how craftspeople innovate their material practices and how they make knowledge claims to build recognition in contemporary society. As a visiting post-doctoral scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, she co-edited a volume along with material historian Dagmar Schafer on Ownership of Knowledge’ that sought to look at knowledge ownership beyond intellectual property frameworks. At the intersection of art and craft practice and research, she organizes hybrid spaces to build vocabularies for exchanges between different ways of knowing to take place. She is currently co-ordinating a project with designers, weavers, oral historians on the aesthetic vision of Rukmini Devi Arundale of Kalakshetra, through a study of the material objects she designed- the Kalakshetra saree, and the costumes of the many dance operas she choregraphed. She is well versed in the poetry and music of the Kannada Poets of the bhakti movement [Daasa Sahitya], under the training of Sri Parameshwara Bhat of Udupi. She has had extensive training in natural dyeing working with the master of natural dyes, K.V. Chandramouli. She can operate a basic loom, speaks, reads and writes Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, English, Sanskrit and has working knowledge of Tamil and can manage life in a Dutch speaking country.