Well-Known poet, cultural theorist and curator Ranjit Hoskote spoke on the Problem of Craft at a Distinguished Lecture organized by the University of Hyderabad (UoH) on 17th October 2014. Speaking to the students, faculty and staff of the University, Hoskote in his talk explored the ambivalence demonstrated towards craft, understood both as technical expertise as well as a lineage of occupational knowledge, in the domain of contemporary art in India. He said that the visionary modernist, committed to expressive individuation, regarded craft as an outmoded practice redolent of folk culture and the deadweight of inherited tradition, the contemporary artist, acting from a conceptualist emphasis on the idea, persists in this attitude by often delegating the actual making of the art work to specialists. Ranjit further opined that this is not without paradox, since contemporary art often premises itself on an intended democratization of the art-making and art-viewing process.
Contemporary art is thus in danger of perpetuating a Platonic emphasis on the idea over materiality, while also rehearsing what might be described as a Cartesian account of the mind-body dichotomy. These asymmetries are mapped, in turn, on the social premises of the caste system, which derogates manual labour and celebrates cerebral activity, while correspondingly derogating and celebrating their respective practitioners, he added.
In his lecture Hoskote took the audience through the key ideas of John Ruskin, William Morris, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Richard Sennett, and proposed an inquiry into the shifting place of the artisan in the genealogy of the modern in art, as well as the notion of tradition variously inflected as fossil legacy, experimental continuity and critical engagement with an improvised genealogy. These considerations gain in urgency at a historical moment when the global circulations of the neoliberal order have reformatted lived experience through speculative gain, immaterial capital, volatile commitment, and the precarity of labour.
Ranjit Hoskote is the author of more than 25 books, ranging across poetry, art criticism, cultural history and poetry in translation. His collections of poetry include Central Time (Penguin, 2014), Vanishing Acts: New & Selected Poems 1985-2005 (Penguin, 2006) and Die Ankunft der Vögel (Carl Hanser Verlag, 2006). His translation of the 14th-century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded has been published as I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded (Penguin Classics, 2011). He is the editor of Dom Moraes: Selected Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 2012), which is the first annotated critical edition of a major Anglophone Indian poet’s work. Hoskote has been a Fellow of the International Writing Program, University of Iowa (1995) and writer-in-residence at Villa Waldberta, Munich (2003), Theater der Welt, Essen/ Mülheim (2010) and the Polish Institute, Berlin (2010). He has been research scholar-in-residence at BAK/ basis voor actuele kunst, Utrecht (2010 and 2013). He has been awarded the Sanskriti Award for Literature, the S H Raza Award for Literature, the Sahitya Akademi Golden Jubilee Award for Literature, and the Sahitya Akademi Translation Award as well as the MUSE India Translation Award for his book I, Lalla. He will give away the 6th Srinivas Rayaprol Poetry prize and read his poetry at 6 p.m. on 18.10.2014.