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Monday, August 31, 2015

Unstitched - Meera Sethi

Draped around in many different ways (apparently, more than a hundred), the Sari is that quintessential South Asian woman’s garment which evokes innumerable images. Sari is both tradition and fashion in the way it is made and in the way it is worn. It is as old as the Indian civilization, and has remained largely unchanged – contemporary women drape the sari in almost the same way as women did in the Indus Valley civilization.

To my generation, saris evoke memories of our mothers. There are many references to the Sari in Hindu mythology – the main (and the most disturbing) being Draupadi’s vastraharan by Duhshasana in the Mahabharata.

Sari remains the sheet anchor of the Indian womanhood, epitomizing the values and virtues that define a philosophy and a mindset. And therefore, the discarding of the sari in favour of other garments is (was?) considered a march in the direction of women’s liberation.

It is said that even men wear saris (I could only think of the yesteryear politician NT Rama Rao who self-confessedly wore saris at night).

Sari’s loose end – called the pallu – is probably the single most significant piece of cloth that has inspired Hindi movie lyricists. Moreover, saris in (Hindi) movies have acquired distinct characteristics, and some actors and directors have come to be identified specifically with trends. For instance, Mumtaz and the chiffon sari, and Raj Kapoor and the white sari. 

Sari is at once personal and public, sensuous and sterile.

The Toronto-based artist Meera Sethi is on a quest to discover stories that surround the sari. Her project ‘Unstitched– the Sari project’ will take a sari (the same sari) to 108 women wearers in an attempt to create a community among South Asians. She will use photography, the social media and personal journaling to track the sari’s journey around the world. The project that commenced in August will traverse the world for the next couple of years.

Meera is a Canadian visual artist who has been engaged in investigating identity and diaspora through dress and popular culture. She explains, “Each participant will tie the sari in their own way. For those who have never worn a sari before, this performance offers an opportunity to discover…the project explores the unstitched ties that connect diasporic South Asians. It will foreground the role of family, community, culture and identity in shaping style.”

At the launch of the project earlier this month, Meera spoke about her fascination for the sari, and the indelible influence her mother’s collection of saris left on her. Emphasizing the cultural dimension of the sari, she said that the decision to have 108 participants was not religious, but signified the complete set of ceremonial beads on a mala (rosary).

To watch a short introduction to the project by the artist, please click here: Unstitched

Narendra Pachkhédé, an academic, also gave a lecture on the subject on the occasion.

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