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British Interventions in the Traditional Crafts of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), c. 1850–1930

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Abstract:

This article examines British interventions in the traditional, hereditary crafts of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during the colonial period. It assesses a set of Western assumptions in artistic and craft policy concerning local material culture in South Asia between 1850 and 1930. British interventions in local craft traditions are discussed in relation to Western conceptualizations of Ceylonese culture as being in a debased state (in contrast to a notional "golden age" of the distant past that was now lost). These assumptions are examined mainly through the writings of the prominent Euro-Sinhalese commentator, Ananda Coomaraswamy. This article also discusses the role of the vernacular crafts in relation to Ceylonese nationalism and the development of local cultural identity during the colonial era. The article concludes with an assessment of the legacy of local craft traditions (as well as the historic debates that surrounded these crafts) at the present time in Sri Lanka.

Keywords: ANANDA COOMARASWAMY; CEYLON; COLONIALISM; CRAFTS TRAINING; CULTURAL IDENTITY; SOUTH ASIA; VERNACULAR CRAFTS

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/174967808X379443

Publication date: November 1, 2008

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Modern Craft is the first peer-reviewed academic journal to provide an interdisciplinary and international forum on the subject of craft. It addresses all forms of making that self-consciously set themselves apart from mass production— whether in the making of designed objects, artworks, buildings, or other artifacts.

    The journal covers craft in all its historical and contemporary manifestations. This ranges from the mid-nineteenth century, when handwork was first consciously framed in opposition to industrialization, through to the present time, when ideas once confined to the “applied arts” have come to seem vital across a huge range of cultural activities. Special emphasis is placed on studio practice, and on the transformations of indigenous forms of craft activity throughout the world. The journal also reviews and analyzes the relevance of craft within new media, folk art, architecture, design, contemporary art, and other fields.

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