Shades of life

Rekha Shailaj’s travelled life influences her design practice.

As a researcher, I want to make sense of the world I live in, the knowledge I gain from my experiences, and the social reality I face. These perceptions are changing as I travel the globe and seek to be settled in a place, whether it is my birthplace or somewhere other.

The connectivity between these different experiences and their associated stimuli results in infinite patterns that are reflected in our lived bodies, time, space and our relationships with others. As a lived body, we experience clothing through the feel of fabric on the skin, the feel of space between the garment and the body, and through the physical changes in the body.

Lived experiences come to life in our present when we assign them memory, reflection and meaning. Assessing and analysing my sartorial experiences requires a textual practice and a pedagogic orientation to the lived experience. Clearly, I am emotionally invested and interested in these experiences.

Today, I have recreated the traditional look of the kurta (an Indian style shift dress) using design methods that achieve minimum fabric wastage using techniques that are familiar to me from the days when I experienced my mother’s table-cutting methods. I have now added to her techniques and transformed them, giving them a special character. While the method and process is partly rooted in traditional ethnographic techniques, it is also dependent on innovative and scientific ways of calculating, recording, making, altering and experimenting.

When I engage in fashion design, my work is generally informed by nostalgia for my motherland and its traditional clothing, textiles and techniques. These original design references transform into unconventional outcomes as I start applying borrowed ideas from different lived cultures. 


Image credit: Rekha Shailaj, used with permission

May 2020