The Newsletter 65 Autumn 2013

Overwritten and/or erased: Rereading biographies of cloth in the global ecumene

Aarti Kawlra

Cloth has been, and continues to be, an important trope in nationalist discourses and features in many projects of cultural revival, design intervention and trade protection in countries of the South. Its persistent use and uncritical acceptance as a depoliticized artifact of history (and culture) by individual nations, and growing salience within wider globalized discourses of heritage and international development, prompted a renewed focus on contemporary circulations of cloth at a recent IIAS roundtable at ICAS 8, Macau. The biographies of cloth presented at Cloth, Identity and Power, sought to recover those trajectories of cloth that have been overwritten and/or erased in master narratives of national or global histories. The conversations at the two sessions attempted to make visible, not only the contradictions inherent in the use of cloth in processes of identity construction, but also the intersecting asymmetries of power from contexts as diverse as Afghanistan, India, Laos, Indonesia and Africa.

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