Friday, 13 July 2012

Selfridges, Hinduism & the Peasant Arts Guild, 1921

Last year I tracked down the location of The Peasant Arts Guild in central London, on Duke Street which runs alongside the famous department store, Selfridges.  Sadly the original Duke Street building was no longer there, likely having been bombed during the war.   I recently found a reference to the Duke Street operation in an article in a book called Democratic Hinduism (Sastri, 1921) which has an extract from The Bombay Chronicle (11 December, 1921) titled 'The Hand's Genius'.  The reference to working conditions is still a contemporary observation:

The Peasant Arts Guild header

“…An education that shall uphold the Hand’s genius as nobler than the greatest invention of Machinery, will be won only through, -in the first place, a conviction of national sin.” – The Vineyard.

“Few of the visitors, fewer probably of the natives of London, who are almost invariably drawn towards the glare of the shops in Oxford Street pause to reflect, overwhelmed as they are by the surrounding mass of glittering objects, on the conditions that make such gorgeous display possible, conditions that have dragged human beings into mire.  The crowd madly rushing in and out and fluttering round the shop windows is not expected to realise the true price of their purchases.  On the contrary, as they, for instance, gaze at the news-telegrams of the world on Selfridge’s huge glass panes they are not only overawed but look as if they were personally responsible for encouraging the “enterprising” firm.  Have they not been told by the Press about Mr. Selfridge’s brilliant ideas for fashioning Oxford Street as a “shopping centre of the world?”
extract from Democratic Hinduism

“Would it not be, under the circumstances, sheer madness to suggest a different kind of enterprise directed not solely towards the increase in profits, in output and brilliance of merchandise and the outward improvement of the shopping locality but also towards the improvement of the lot of those who have brought the glories of the shopping centre into being?  Assuming it s necessity, is the novel enterprise possible, is there any use fighting against tremendous odds?  Has not the present commercial enterprise come to stay?  Those who are hypnotised by its dazzle and magnitude have no doubts about its inevitability.

“And yet, in point of fact, not far from Selfridge could be seen in a shop-window of comparatively insignificant dimensions, the beginnings of the new enterprise.  The carpets, rugs, metal and wood-work and other artistic handicrafts displayed there, at once remind one of India where the Western hypnotism has turned the apathy of modern Indians to similar things, that have been for ages their proud heritage into despair.  The shop has been organised by “the Peasant Arts Guild.”  Its primary object has been defined as “The strengthening of the ancient worth of the Hand, because of its inalienable correspondence with thought, with desire to help, with affection, with Nature herself; in a word, with all the fundamental simplicities that are inseperable from what we mean by religion.”

Democratic Hinduism, Sastri, 1921

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