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Convict Carpets: Jails and the Revival of Historic Carpet Design in Colonial India

  • Abigail McGowan
Abstract

One promising traditional industry slated for revival in late colonial India was carpet weaving. Characterized by low technology, high product value, and strong demand, carpets appealed for obvious economic reasons, while simultaneously evoking India's luxurious artisanal past. In western India, carpet weaving was centered in jails where convicts produced high-quality rugs using historic designs in prison factories that served as laboratories for redefining penal labor and traditional design under the eyes of the colonial state. For, even as they were poised at the center of new exchange networks of design ideas, jail factories also claimed practical economic goals: to earn money for jails, train convicts in new skills and habits, and build India's productive potential in a time of economic malaise. As such, they provide an ideal site for examining the economic context for the emerging design industry, and for limitations of colonial visions of the Indian economy.

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The Journal of Asian Studies
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