Traditional Artisans and Modern Architects

Craftspersons/ Artisanal, Cultural, Creative Industry, Editorial

Traditional Artisans and Modern Architects: A Polemical Statement

Kak, Dr. Krishen K

This piece appeared in Architecture, vol.1, no.7, 2001: 22-27. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

Brief Sketch 'As we in India westernize ourselves, can we really expect traditional Indian artisans - and, therefore, their skills - to survive?' This paper engages with the discourse of modernity versus tradition, premising the discussion on the argument that throughout the world, 'all modernising societies cannibalise their traditions, and [that] in no modern society have traditional artisans survived'. Trying to avoid judgements like like 'good' and 'bad', Dr Kak seeks to highlight the 'existential implications' of such a process and its logical conclusion(s). The paper is grounded in the context of 'traditional' artisanal craftsmanship in modern architecture, raising the question of the extent to which 'traditional artisans [can] meaningfully contribute their skills to modern architecture? However, the applications are more broad-based. The paper raises the issue of a disjunction between 'traditional' (synonymous with 'ethnic', that is, Indian) and "modern" (that is Western), 'especially among the English-language speakers in India… educated in English-medium schools, in a pattern established long ago by Macaulay…'. For many reasons, the English-speaking elite treats the latter [modern, western] as superior to the former [traditional, Indian] and so 'West is best'. Dr Kak raises the critical question of whether 'to be successfully modern we must den...
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