Ms Krupa Rajangam
Ms Krupa Rajangam
Conservation Architect,
Founder and Director (Lead-Community Initiatives and Research),
SAYTHU, India

Krupa Rajangam, PhD (Conservation Studies), is a heritage practitioner-scholar with over 20 years field-based experience. She is Founder-Director of the Bengaluru-based socially-engaged heritage collaborative Saythu that is led by conservation professionals. The group works to promote conservation as an integrated inclusive social process, by bridging theory (academy), practice (field), and peoples’ lived experiences, through various initiatives, projects, and teaching-learning engagements. Her most recent stint as an institutional scholar (at the National Institute of Advanced Studies) was undertaking a critical heritage ethnography of everyday conservation-management of Hampi World Heritage Site, India. She is currently incubated at NSRCEL, IIM-B translating her various community-engagement initiatives into a social impact startup.

Track 1 Discussion: 
Harnessing Youth Potential in Crafts and Performing Arts

PRESENTATION 1 (CRAFTS)
A Tale of Two Craftspeople: Moving the Conversation Beyond Craftspeople as Inheritors of Tradition and Bearers of Burden

In this short talk, I first set out the fictionalized accounts of two craftspeople, Eshwarappa and Perumal, and their everyday crafts practice as way to outline my self-reflexive journey of thinking through certain dominant ways of seeing crafts and intangible heritage. I then link this transformation to the webinar theme.

My initial standpoint – partly owing to my training and partly to my antiquarian mindset – was to romanticize craftspeople as ‘inheritors of tradition’. At that point I saw my role as bridging gaps in traditional crafts knowledge and practices amongst a wider public. But it turned out that Perumal did not want to inherit tradition even while cultural patrons were hoping he would.

That’s when I understood that often crafts and craftspeople end up ‘bearing the burden of upholding “tradition”’. I realized that the everyday reality for craftspeople, within the framework of categories typically understood as intangible or living heritage, was to ‘carry forward someone else’s past for someone else’s future’. My role as bridge then transformed into foregrounding these insights amongst a wider public. However, my interactions with Eshwarappa challenged this role too. He wished to carry on his traditional practices but was prevented from doing so by cultural patrons.

And that’s when the lived reality – that heritage per se has nothing to do with the past, it is about how we shape the past in the present for the future – truly sank in. By extension I accepted that there were but two heritages: Official Heritage and other heritage. And sure enough my role as bridge transformed again. Rather than attempting to transmit traditional knowledge or highlight the burden of bearing traditional knowledge I now see my role as making a case for ‘situated knowledge’. Each location and craftsperson I engaged with merited being understood within that specific socio-cultural condition and contextual frame of reference. Although over-arching frameworks remain alluring I have learnt caution. I am no longer able to straightforwardly prescribe or generalize. Simultaneously, I advocate that the micro can inform the macro.

Accepting crafts, traditions, and heritage, as socially-culturally defined categories I ask if we are framing the right set of questions. As everyday lives change so do such categories. Should we nudge youth communities to debate on what aspect of a craft is “traditional” - is it the recreation of certain historic motifs or self-ownership of the product/process or both but only in certain contexts? Should we be asking, is patronage the only form of engaging with crafts knowledge and skills? Maybe we ought to examine the social barriers to certain youth opting to choose crafts as livelihood rather than hobby. Are we unable to engage with how youths perceive crafts and crafts practices? Is this where we should be starting, with understanding what meaning and value they already perceive in crafts and heritage?

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