Craft Practice Beyond the Material
Bidisha Dhar
February 2020, volume 44, No 2-3

The book under review is not only a rich ethnographic account of hand paintings from the Cheriyal village in the northeastern part of Telangana, a State in southern India but also an almost complete account of the personal journey of Bose the ethnographer. It is a classic case of the relation between research and researcher, the latter growing with her research and in turn the fundamentals of the research being instrumental in changing the researcher.

The rubrics of this journey are laid out in the Introduction, beginning from the author’s transition from ‘doing’ ethnography to ‘writing’ ethnography. Bose begins by discussing ‘What is ethnography?’ He carefully treads the path of building the theoretical framework, uses the most recent of theoretical interventions to address the tension between ‘an ethnography’ and ‘ethnography as process’ and also attempts to explore the meaning of ‘making’ of an ethnography. Bose successfully draws a parallel between the body of the ethnographer and that of the artisan, or more specifically, the painter. ‘Both have to engage with the raw materials, contemplate the tools which would forge relations with and between the raw materials that she recognized as the ones with the potentialities to explore the possibilities of a situation’ (p. 2). Bose borrows from Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework annulling the centre in ethnography and to document not just the ‘seeing’ and ‘representing’ but also counting the very moments through which the representations were being constituted, thus, analysing an ethnographic account, that is, both the process and the object required to be analysed in its completeness. This theoretical framework, which Bose draws in the beginning, is firmly entrenched in his entire work as he captures the finer moments of the interaction between the subject and the ethnographer.

A rich discussion about the ‘field’ also finds a prominent place in the Introduction where Bose provides rich details about the patam-pradarshan-katha on these Cheriyal hand paintings. These comprise primarily of the painted narratives of etiological myths of the different jatis or occupational communities of the region. The process of Bose’s gradually developing affinity towards his field—its artists and their craft through institutionally supported fieldwork—is discussed in the section ‘The Seed’. And, in the section on ‘The Subject’, the description of the craft comes through very clearly. Many important points get highlighted through these discussions, for example, the size and length of the scrolls, uniqueness of the patam-pradarshan-katha tradition of Telangana, about the naqqash or the nakash who are the artists belonging to a single community, the materials used for the paintings, the objects made with them, the depiction of the episodes from the Puranas in their characteristic bold style, the time taken to complete one work, stages of production which correspond with the stages in training, etc.

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