Specialization : Handlooms and Natural Dyeing
Annapurna Mamidipudi was trained as an engineer in electronics and communications, in Manipal, in South India. She had set up and worked for around 20 years in an NGO that supported vulnerable craft livelihoods where she collaborated very closely with designers, technologists and funders, before completing her doctoral thesis titled “Towards a theory of innovation for handloom weaving in India” in the University of Maastricht in 2016.
She is an awardee of the Global Social Business Incubator program of Santa Clara University of 2009. Her research interests include the study of traditional craft in the contemporary world, particularly handloom weaving as livelihood, as socio-technology and knowledge; sustainable agriculture, politics of development and the role of markets in sustaining traditional arts and crafts.
She is currently a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. She is a member of the NGO Timbaktu Collective’s executive committee, which works in the drought prone district of Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh to support more than 20,000 poor farmer families, and on the executive committee of the Craft Education and Research Centre at Kalakshetra, the premier Music and Dance institution, in Chennai. She is a trustee of the Handloom Futures Trust, in Hyderabad.
Annapurna on her work :
A song for a blue god: Travels in colour, craft and community building
“They call me black,
I think to ridicule me
Is not black the title of the blue-skinned Narayana?
Does not the blue throated Shiva adorn himself with
The deepest shade of black?
How to intervene productively in the lives and livelihoods of craftspeople who stand in the shadow of deep divisions – rich/poor, urban/rural, modern/traditional, Brahmin/Dalit, educated elite/illiterate labour- to name a few. How to act in the interest of craftspeople without reinforcing existing hierarches?
‘How to understand craftspeoples’ worlds of making and creative innovation, when their vocabulary is one of embodied practice, poetry and song, rather than theories, laboratories and textbooks?
Recognising that knowledge is always embodied opens us to the understanding that claiming, contesting and attributing ownership of knowledge by bodied craftspeople are also always political acts. Yet, social order is not negotiated in technical laboratories or universities alone by scholars and experts, to be disseminated as knowledge that orders the rest of society.
Based on practices of dyers, of craftspeople, and artists, I explore craft knowledge through the practices of colour making – as sustainable mode of production, as embodied cognition that engages both mind and body, as tool for creative expression of a spiritual self.
Knowledge of colour includes aesthetic, material and technical expertise – colour has to be extracted, mobilised, stabilised, requiring dyeing skills, ordering and naming, and agreements on judgements of quality between producers, traders and consumers. Colour derives meaning that is culturally shared; equally it can bestow meaning on the object of colour. In a culture that equally allows its deities and dams to proliferate, it is not unreasonable that this knowledge is accumulated in its texts, in stories, in songs, its temples, in traditional craft practices and repertoires, in museums, as scientific expertise and culture.
Yet, when a colour is known as technique, as means of livelihood, as technology, it loses an essential meaning -its ‘rasa’. Drawing a parallel to the vocabulary of music, the Sanskrit word ‘Naada’ is translated as ‘sound’. At a conceptual level it can mean vibration, with the associated notions of harmony, energy, resonance and dissonance. At its most abstract, it is the manifestation of the Absolute. When ‘Naada’ is translated as ‘sound’, what is lost is its essence, the knowledge of Naada as Brahma.
Thus, recognising rasa is a social and cultural act as much as it is knowledge and experience; it orders the receivers into a group of connoisseurs of art, believers, or experts depending on how knowledge is defined, and the producer into an owner of that knowledge, one who revels in rasa.
In accepting such a concept of knowledge, listeners and in the case of colour viewers accept the primary of embodiment in knowing, and sensory perception as the source of producing, experiencing and attributing such knowledge.
It is this source that I seek, through my practice as well as in my theories.”
Researcher, social worker, dyer, mother
Sunny Narang on Annapurna :
“Annapurna has created what I call the New Language of Integrative Production and Design Process which sees beyond the simplistic notions of technology as ‘modern’ and craft as ‘traditional’.
It brings a material consciousness of a craft process that is about an parallel production and innovation system.
This is exactly in tune with what we all are talking about, of a spiritual-cultural-knowledge system that is parallel to the western. This is the New Language which we need to ‘develop’ to re-imagine a sustainability of material and creative production that is both culturally and ecologically situated.
I am writing this as a friend and a co-traveler, and also celebrating an old friend and an associate whose journey from handloom to theory of knowledge is deep and also informed by her love of Bharatnatyam and Carnatic Music !
And after being a mother of 3, of which two are adults and managing a joint family, she still is in a phase of re-discovery all the time !”
17th July, 2018
COUNTING ON THE BODY : REFLECTIONS ON NUMERACY IN INDIAN DYEING PRACTICES
Where then does the knowledge of the underlying principle reside in his practice? I do not yet have an answer. All I can speculate is that the knowledge of the principles governing Indigo are known by Salim much like the numbers themselves are known in the dyeing: when dyers learn to count on their bodies, the numbers on the piece of paper disappear.
Much like a weft thread woven through the warp, sometimes visible on the surface of the fabric, and at other times stabilised below the threads, Salim’s knowledge too is always present, sometimes visible and enumerable, and at other times invisible and embodied.
A Recipe for Crafting Color : The Revival of Natural Dyeing in South India
The craft scholar, engineer, and activist Annapurna Mamidipudi describes the impact that the smallest changes in the application of recipes for dyeing practices have on the resulting color. Her hands-on research reveals how embodied knowledge practices as a form of non-text-based experience-of tinkering and chance-contribute to the refinement of both artisanal techniques and knowledge itself, offering a craft notion of knowledge whereby theory is never detached from its materiality.
Embodying Color: How Color is Made, Mobilized, and Owned in Traditional Craft Practice in South India
The case of color is particularly suited to this study. But how can color be owned? How is it be used? How does it communicate? How can one be excluded from a color? How would communities negotiate and determine how much color an individual requires? How can one control or restrict its use when it is not depleted by use?
Knowledge of color includes aesthetic, material, and technical expertise—color, like knowledge, has to be extracted, mobilized, and stabilized, in this case requiring material and dyeing skills, ordering and naming, and agreements on judgements of quality between producers, traders, and users. Colors derive meaning that is culturally shared; equally they can bestow meaning on the object they color.
Knowledge about color is accumulated in Indian scriptures, in stories, in songs, in temples, in traditional craft practices and repertoires, in museums, as technology, as scientific expertise, and as cultural heritage. Through studying these, I would like to describe and analyze the making of knowledge claims as an opportunity for political action—as a unifying device for cultural cohesion, as embodied cognition that engages both mind and body, and as a tool for democracy.
Live Mint – 25th August, 2016
Weavers are the opportunity business needs: Annapurna Mamidipudi
An engineer’s formula for a harmonious marriage between tradition and innovation to create luminous weaves
How did an engineer zero in on handloom weaving as a subject of research?
The approach of the people who introduced me to this sector—Uzramma, Vinoo Kaley, Smarajit Ray—was one of problem solving through understanding both the social and the technical. But I had to unlearn many ideas when encountering technology in the hands of craftspeople.
Here, the values were of a different kind of sustainability, with very little waste, and always combining with notions of beauty and utility. We had to learn to recognize science in the stories, to look beyond the manual labour to the skill. Values of productivity, efficiency and standardization had to be understood differently.
We saw weavers who were technologists and innovators to the core, much more sustainable than many so-called modern technocrats, who had the ability to produce fabrics that consistently satisfied customers’ need for beauty and novelty.
Yet, policymakers, and generally most of society, think of them as outdated and unsustainable objects of charity, or as traditional heritage to be museumized and brought out for special occasions. What they completely miss is the opportunity craft modes of production provide to save us from unsustainable production that is destroying the planet: a way forward to the future, rather than leftovers of the past.
How can you marry innovation and craft?
The separation between tradition and innovation is an artificial one, particularly in craft production. Yes, we have traditional crafts, but they could not have survived if they did not innovate. It becomes easier when you start thinking of handloom weaving as technology that has been able to constantly evolve to suit the changing needs of society. As an engineer, I thought technology was very dynamic, and culture was static. We make this division in our mind, but increasingly it is becoming clear that our traditional craft culture is also a technology, and our modern technology is culture too. But we need wisdom or, at least, social theory to help us understand how to reconcile older ideas of culture and technology with social reality today.
19th July, 2017
The Center for Science and Society at Columbia University
Annapurna Mamidipudi (University of Maastricht) & Andrew Goldman (Columbia University) speak at the Weaving: Cognition, Technology, Culture conference held from April 5-8, 2017.
From Sunny Narang’s Facebook Posts :
2nd April, 2014
Annapurna is one of the co-founders of Dastkar Andhra, she along with Uzramma spear-headed the natural-dyeing programme with handloom weavers in the 90’s, that has now been adopted by many weaving communities. Also working on quality and design with the huge handloom co-ops in South India gave Annapurna the experience to do a PhD in ‘Handloom weaving as a sustainable socio-technology, as an equitable economic activity, and as embedded knowledge for sustainable societies’.
In the thousands of handloom weaving traditions of India are embedded culture, community, aesthetics , a more ecologically aligned way of existence and very high skill sets. Maybe the future is urbanisation and globalisation of markets and working with designers. And not local markets as the founders had dreamt earlier. That is what is important always, that not one’s ideology of what should happen in what way, but the craft process and the artisan communities thrive. On the ground is needed what I call ‘flexible idealism’.
“Think of it. This industry has survived for 2,000 years. There must be a reason for that. Can we re-conceptualise handloom as a social technology to let it survive into the future?” muses Mamidipudi. The 2010 census found that about 30 per cent of our weavers moved away from weaving. Mamidipudi proposes that we can capitalise on the fact that the exodus from the weaving profession is not altogether a linear migration, but partly one that shrinks and expands in response to various factors.
In parallel, integrating handlooms into widespread and contemporary design ethics will let weavers tap into larger markets and earn enough from weaving. “Globalisation gives new opportunities for innovation in weaving. Now the focus should be about innovating tradition to ensure it moves into the future,” says Bijker. In the process, this will keep alive India’s incredible legacy of handmade fabric.
23rd August, 2012
Dastkar Andhra’s vision is to establish handlooms as a viable livelihood, product and technology, working with weavers, weaver institutions, market and state in achieving this. Facilitating producer control and equity within the handloom industry is its long-term goal.
Dastkar Andhra (DA) initiated its activities in 1989, as an off shoot of Dastkar Delhi.
In 1996 DA was incorporated as a public charitable trust with the objectives of promoting artisan industries suited to ownership by the primary producers. Uzramma(Malkha India) founded DA and a young girl Annapurna A Mamidipudi from Hyderabad became her right-hand.
Today DA is the prime agency working in the area of handlooms and natural dyeing. Experimenting in all ways, from growing indigo crops, to restarting traditional indigo vats, to researching the whole cotton chain they have done work which no other non-profit agency I know of has done in India, in terms of the intellectual, activistic, policy, research, appropriate technology, design and marketing. Not only in textiles, in any other field to, they have brought together engineers from IIT, chemists, cotton researchers, designers, passionate lovers of textiles.
In any other country they would have been feted, but we of educated Indian types, are so colonised in our heads and hearts that we cannot see the genius, even in action in our own country. We will think film-stars who represent issues, or fancy UK awarded Indian writers who write long critical essays cause change. They really don’t. What causes change are these kind of people, thinking out of the box for those who have held on to processes that have defined the cultural and production genius of our civilisation. Explore this website if you want to know, what real constructive grassroot work is all about.
Your Story – 18th September, 2009
According to Annapurna, there are over 200,000 weavers in Andhra Pradesh and engage in the second-largest industry (after agriculture) in India, but 90% of the handloom weavers live on less than $2 a day. Although they are producing quality goods, they do not know how to reach centralized markets. The handloom industry can work as an engine to bring people out of poverty, and Dastkar Andhra (DA) is working with cooperatives to ensure that the engine is working just right. In addition to marketing, DA also does policy and advocacy work on behalf of weavers, holds design workshops, and imports appropriate technologies.
As Annapurna explained, in the 1990s, no one was talking about sustainability. DA had a goal of scaling to 1 crore, and by the second round of funding, they found that they were indeed sustainable enough to achieve that goal. The ICCO funds toward experimentation and research and development were also extremely valuable in moving the organization forward.
Speaking of scale, I also asked Annapurna about plans to expand. She stressed the importance of scaling locally and strengthening cooperatives. There is a need to have local organizations in other states take up the work, because it is necessary to have people present. Scale also means building a brand. In order to build scale, the organization needs the capability to read and service the market. The brand for DA represents a contemporary, environment-friendly, and aesthetic product, and the team hopes to make it a recognizable name for a larger market segment. Overall, as Annapurna said, they believe in taking their time rather than rushing to scale up.
Annapurna reports in Panel 1: A vocabulary for creativity