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Mohsini, Mira (2010) Becoming an 'Asli Karigar': The Production of Authenticity Among Old Delhi's Muslim Artisans. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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Fieldwork for this thesis was undertaken with Muslim artisans who live and work in Old Delhi, India, between July 2006 and October 2007. These artisans are skilled in a form of embroidery, done with gold and silver metallic wires, known as zardozi. This craft emerged in India in conjunction with the rise of so-called Islamicate states beginning in the 13th century and zardozi was essential to the production of luxury goods of exquisite quality. Today, the high quality and intricate form of the craft is rarely patronised, while sub-standard work is being produced in the name of zardozi. With the liberalisation of India's economy in the early 1990s, competition from abroad and new opportunities afforded by the growing export market for handicrafts have accelerated the decline in high quality craftsmanship. These recent trends have meant that many highly skilled artisans are losing their sources of livelihood or are forced to produce low quality goods for a mass market. In my thesis, I argue that the marginal position of urban Muslim artisans runs much deeper than recent shifts in the global marketplace. This marginalisation can be located in their exclusion from the broader narratives of the Indian nation-state, whereby the rhetoric embedded in colonial and post-colonial discourses locates the authentic artisan and authentic crafts production in primarily rural and "Hindu" communitarian settings. In this context of marginalisation, I pose the following research question: How do urban Muslim artisans constitute themselves as real, authentic craft producers or, in their own words, as "asli karigar-s"? The broader theoretical objective of the thesis is to recover the possibility of "becoming subjects" in the spaces whereby normativity is aspired to and not necessarily where it is subverted or resisted. In the thesis, I locate various "sites" of performance where the real, authentic artisan is constituted, including the construction of the "Other" through language that distinguishes authentic from inauthentic; the incorporation of Islam into conceptions of ideal work practices; constructions of lineage through narratives situated in both linear and nonlinear temporal frameworks; and relations with the state - the largest patron of crafts in India - through encounters with government sponsored exhibitions and award competitions.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 12 Oct 2020 17:19

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