Experiencing women’s heritage through the transforming narrative of the sustainable drape
‘The Surviving Saree’ was presented at the Global Fashion Conference, France 2020 and is an artistic expression of the emotional journey of the saree, a 5-9 yards rectangular piece of fabric which speaks about heritage and identity. It is a garment that is known to be one of the oldest surviving drapes. The Saree can be traced back to one of the oldest Indian civilizations and has survived centuries of social, political and economic changes in India. Clothing and particularly, the saree has played a significant role in women’s heritage. Saree has not just evolved, but it stands as the most sustainable garment even today reflecting the renewal of fashion as it is draped entirely, with zero wastage of fabric as it doesn’t involve garment cutting techniques. The project explores the saree, not just as a garment but as the ignition of emotional aspects, stories of women, their transformation with the transforming saree, and the renewal of fashion in India.
Growing up in India, I have been observing and visiting many places across the country to study the paintings, sculptures at museums and historical sites like Ajanta and Ellora caves. My observations have helped me understand the evolution of the drape, but the evolution is not just related to draping styles. The physical transformation of the drape is linked to the social, cultural and ideological changes. We see a significant difference in the ways women approached the drape in the ancient eras to medieval, and this also connects to how the saree is such a significant part of women’s heritage. The draping styles symbolized beauty and sense of freedom for women. The model of respect and identity has been transmission and transferred from one generation to another. I have witnessed may folk tales around the saree and how it stands for a women’s modesty.
In India, in many social rituals and ceremonies even today, sarees are gifted, or the bride has specific colours for the saree that symbolize marriage and good fortune. We see a very interesting blend of rituals, application of colours, and connectivity of the drape to spirituality. I have observed changes in the draping styles from the ancient culture to the medieval period. There is a major shift in the identity, ideology and draping styles during the Mughal and British rule in India. India has a rich cultural history and has seen the blend of many cultures.
The most interesting find from my research has been to see how the saree kept evolving, and women saw themselves, their changing identity through the oldest surviving drape. It has evolved with women and their heritage. Changes in clothing throughout history have always been an adaptation to new styles. None of the earlier styles has been discarded. They have beautifully transformed. Women have adopted new ways as per the changing social, cultural, and economic needs and then adapt to those needs as and when they find it necessary or useful to their daily existence (Rathi, 2018). Today, the saree is a symbol of heritage, culture, and identity but what we also see is our future in this drape. The fact that the saree is very sustainable, can be draped around every body type and is an evolving drape, makes a fascinating suggestion towards the future as we are talking about sustainability.
With no pattern cutting and textile wastage, the saree remains one of the most sustainable zero waste clothing styles we know of. Saree, being one of the oldest surviving drapes has proved that the ability of a garment to respond to change is the ultimate. Flexibility in transformation, adaptability through multiple social, economic, political, geographic and cultural changes have made the philosophy of the Saree much stronger. The Saree still stands as a symbol of culture, identity, and heritage and above everything today, individuality and sustainability. The Surviving Saree is not just a research project but a voice of the future. The sustainable future we dream of, the zero waste clothing the world is looking at today.
With sustainability, the saree also answers questions on gender equality and acceptance. Where today the world is speaking of gender-neutral clothing, it found way back in the Harappa civilization (Image 1) where we see men draped in fabrics. The Saree drape over the years has been associated with women, but I believe the drape is gender-free and stands for a sustainable and equal tomorrow. Taking my conclusion further into application of my research and explorations, the outcome of this project consists of series of images created with recycled, old sarees styled on men and women wearing masks to express gender neutrality in the current scenario. My outcome is an artistic expression of my research and conceptualisation.
The following series was created in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and is interlinked with the mask. The Mask and the Saree are genderless forms of self-expression. The art of draping is our voice for tomorrow and the voice of gender-neutral clothing. I am looking at the future through my Saree, and here is a visual representation of my concept.
About the Author: Ms. Ishi Srivastava, lecturer at Pearl Academy, Mumbai is an artist, stylist and designer based in Mumbai. A fashion design graduate from Pearl Academy Delhi, she has worked in the industry as a freelance stylist, graphic designer, costume designer, visual artist and was running her own clothing line. Her styling work has been featured in multiple magazines like Mob Journal, Lucy’s, Mordant, Women’s Era, Malvie and Clichémag. She is also a part of the Khadi Design Council of India and has presented and will be presenting her research paper on ‘The Virtual Studio’ (online education), ‘The surviving Saree’ and ‘The Future Universe’ at platforms like Fashion Colloquia, Jaipur, From Place to Space (Virtual conference) and Global Fashion Conference 2020. Ishi believes in driving change through education, fashion, art and is constantly working to achieve this.
The Surviving Saree – Innovation in Future
Saree designed from recycled old sarees and hand painted with abstract artwork inspired from the story of Drapaudi In the Hindu epic Mahabharata by Author Ms.Ishi Srivastava