Date of this Version
Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.
"Above the proficiency in making cotton textiles, India’s crowning textile accomplishment was the patterning of this cloth with brilliant fast dyes."
Textiles are among India’s most successful exports and the enduring popularity of block printed cloth has sustained a centuries-old craft that survives and even thrives in the digital age. Block prints have been integral to the dress codes of the subcontinent as well as serving domestic and ritual functions. (figs. 1-2) They were also embedded in the material culture of diverse nations through centuries of international trade. So what has enabled their longevity and global reach? This paper explores some of the factors that enabled Indian block prints to penetrate global markets across time, focusing on the mercantile activities of Indian entrepreneurs. It looks at 2-3 historical examples and then discusses more recent initiatives to sustain block printing (and other crafts) in India. The latter have been played out against a socio-political backdrop in which craft, notably textiles, has been formative in attempts to forge a unified national identity in the post-colonial era.