An anthropologist and cultural researcher, Monisha Ahmed is known for her work on the arts and crafts, and particularly the textiles, of the region of Ladakh. She is co-founder of the Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO), a public trust that aims to document and conserve Ladakh’s art practices and material culture.
After graduating from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai in 1987, Ahmed spent a few months in Leh, teaching at the Moravian Mission School and studying Buddhist philosophy and thangka paintings at the Central Institute for Buddhist Studies. It was during this time that she first encountered the textile traditions of the nomadic-pastoralist Rupshupa community of eastern Ladakh.
Ahmed left to study anthropology at the University of Oxford, UK, returning to Ladakh to conduct research for her master’s as well as her doctorate degree. Her doctoral dissertation on the textile practices of the Rupshupa community became the basis for her first book, Living Fabric: Weaving Among the Nomads of Ladakh Himalaya (2002), which won the Textile Society of America’s RL Shep Award in 2003.
In 1996, Ahmed co-founded LAMO with Ravina Aggarwal. Among its earliest projects was the restoration of the Munshi House and the adjacent Gyaoo House, historic structures in Leh’s Old Town. The project was led by conservation architect John Harrison, with help from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) UK. The houses were adapted to serve as the LAMO Centre: a dedicated arts venue with a library, offices, artist studios, galleries and spaces for performances. In 2018, the LAMO Centre received an Award of Distinction at UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
Ahmed has also published on the history of the textile trade in the Himalayan region and its different textiles such as gyasar and pashmina. She collaborated with historian Janet Rizvi for the book Pashmina: the Kashmir Shawl and Beyond (2009) and contributed articles on the garments of the Himalayan region in the Encyclopaedia of World Fashion: Vol 4, South Asia and SouthEast Asia (2010). Along with British anthropologist Clare Harris, she co-edited Ladakh: Culture at the Crossroads (2009), which examines Ladakh’s traditional crafts practices from historical and contemporary perspectives. She worked with the Mumbai chapter of INTACH from 1997–200, and was associate editor of Marg Magazine from 2010–16.
At the time of writing, Ahmed lives in Mumbai, where she continues her work as Executive Director of LAMO alongside her research on Indian textile and craft practices.
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