The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India

The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India

The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India

The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India

Synopsis

Because clothing, food, and shelter are basic human needs, they provide excellent entries to cultural values and individual aesthetics. Everyone gets dressed every day, but body art has not received the attention it deserves as the most common and universal of material expressions of culture. The Grace of Four Moons aims to document the clothing decisions made by ordinary people in their everyday lives. Based on fieldwork conducted primarily in the city of Banaras, India, Pravina Shukla conceptualizes and realizes a total model for the study of body art--understood as all aesthetic modifications and supplementations to the body. Shukla urges the study of the entire process of body art, from the assembly of raw materials and the manufacture of objects, through their sale and the interactions between merchants and consumers, to the consumer's use of objects in creating personal decoration.

Excerpt

Every one of us gets dressed in the morning, every day of our lives. Clothing is one of the principal ways by which we express at once our personal identities and our culture. Dress, along with architecture and food, fulfills basic human needs for protection and creativity, while responding to environmental and social conditions. Since all people engage in these shared mediums of expression, one way to understand and compare cultures—and to see regional, local, and personal differences within cultures—is to examine specific modes of clothing, housing, and feeding the body. Schools and museums often utilize this basic triad in introducing children to the diversity of the world’s populations. But in contrast to the study of vernacular architecture, and, to a lesser extent, the study of foodways, the examination of everyday clothing is not yet fully developed. Surveys of national dress tend to generalize, homogenize, and anonymize individuals, discounting personal interpretations of social norms. Other books focus on extreme cases—the counter-cultural young with their tattoos, the economic elite with their enthusiasm for high fashion. It is my aim to provide a study of the clothing choices made by ordinary people, in keeping with the theoretical premises of my discipline, folklore, which, to begin, I will define as the study of creativity in everyday life.

I call the realm of my concern “body art,” intending to denote all aesthetic modifications and supplementations to the body. My interest in the forms, functions, and meanings of dress and adornment, and especially in the choices individuals make within a web of social constraints, led me to India, an optimal locale for analysis. Decoration abounds; people lavish ornamentation on a wide variety of objects—temples, altars, vehicles, animals, and . . .

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