Happy Homes and the Indian Nation: Women's Designs in Post-colonial Tamil Nadu

Dohmen, Renate (2001). Happy Homes and the Indian Nation: Women's Designs in Post-colonial Tamil Nadu. Journal of Design History, 14(2) pp. 129–139.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jdh/14.2.129

Abstract

The twice daily marking of thresholds with ephemeral chalk-powdered design, executed by women, constitutes a unique, cross-caste form of ‘traditional’ visual pratice. In contrast with the high level of visibility of the design in the public domain of the street, the pratice is charaterized by an astonishing degree of cultural invisiblity, as evidenced by the lack of a body of literature on the subject. Given the popular appropiation of folk and traditional arts for representing ‘Indianess’, this striking oversight of threshold design is not only suprising, but indicative, as I will argue, of the ambiguities and unresolved complexities of ‘woman’, art and culture in post-colonial India, which translate into a marked difficulty of placing the tradition within dominant constrution of Indian arts.

This article hence seeks to locate the practice of threshold drawing, as encountered in Tamil Nadu, between tradition and cultural (post)modernity in the Indian discourses of art and culture. The proposed argument is that we need to turn to the loaded binaries of masculinity and femininity as operative in the gendered discourse of Indianness and culture, in order to understand the practice's low cultural visibility This investigation is part of a wider study of post-colonialism, Eurocentricity and the aesthetics of decoration.

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