Transnational Textiles: New Directions 27-11-15

The Design History Society Symposium co-organised by CloTHINK and Visual and Material Culture Research Group, Northumbria University.

Transnational Textiles: New Directions Friday 27 November 2015 9.30am - 5pm; Squires Building, Room 210


Transnational Textile: New Directions examines whether the movement of textiles and fashion across borders removes distinctions and boundaries, or reinforces them. The close analysis of African, Chinese, European, Indian, Japanese, North American, and Scandinavian examples from the nineteenth century to the present will demonstrate an ongoing cross-cultural dialogue rather than single journey from one culture to another in design inspiration, manufacturing, marketing and consumption. Papers will explore the ways in which new productions and uses occur in the interstitial space created in exchange between cultures.

Lecture Abstract Tereza Kuldova:

Forcing the ‘Good’ rather than ‘Force of Good’: Interrogating the Convergence between Indian Fashion, Artistic Nationalism and Transnational Philanthrocapitalism

For a long time (1960s - early 2000s), India’s rich were largely publicly considered as greedy and corrupt. However, recently, the pre-Independence idea of the heroic philanthropist has returned with renewed vigour, coinciding yet again with another upsurge of Hindu nationalism. Since 2009, magazines like ‘Forbes India’ have been pushing the idea of business as a ‘force of good’, for example the annual ‘Philanthropy Awards’. In May 2014, this convergence has been sealed even further by the election of the right wing Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi as India’s new Prime Minister, backed by transnational corporate elite and India’s philanthrocapitalists. Morality has been re-inserted back into the market and the philanthrocapitalists are today celebrated as the only thinkable saviours capable of relieving India of its social and environmental evils. Elite Indian fashion designers are among those who have jumped on this wave, establishing trusts and NGOs, invoking the heroism of pioneer Indian philanthropists when setting up their own ethical and sustainable fashion agendas. Analysing the concrete cases of on one hand the popularization of the ahimsa (non-violent) silk, informed by the Gandhian notion of nonviolence, in the elite Indian fashion design, by designers such as Samant Chauhan, who has brought this silk from Bhagalpur to the fashion ramps of Paris and on the other hand the ornamentalist aesthetic of the work of JJ Valaya, the paper argues that contemporary Indian ethical fashion business has to be read not only in the context of the global rise of philanthrocapitalism and ethical fashion, but more importantly in the context of Hindu nationalism and a drive for hierarchical distinction among the elites, who like to imagine themselves as benevolent patrons of the (global) poor. The cases of socially responsible patriotic business reveal the interdependencies of morality, market and nation, but also transnational belonging of the top few. Elitist fashion thus also enables its consumers to both display their opulent Indianness while claiming belonging to a transnational elite. The paper is grounded in long-term ethnographic research in urban North India among fashion designers and craftspeople (2008-2013).

From left to right: Dr Elizabeth Kramer, Dr Angela Jansen, Dr Leena Svinhufvud, Dr Nicola Stylianou, Dr Tereza Kuldova, Dr Sabrina Rahman, Elli Michaela Young

And with Dr Wessie Ling in the middle!