Fashion artiste Sharmila Nair’s campaign about personal restrictions

Sharmila Nair’s social media campaign #shadesofblack uses faith and saris to talk about personal restrictions

Art, faith and clothes make for an unusual political statement. Fashion artiste Sharmila Nair has deliberately juxtaposed them to highlight the limitations women tend to place on themselves. Her recent social media campaign #shadesofblack uses faith and saris as a medium for women to talk about personal restrictions.

The campaign is pegged on the Sabarimala issue, which restricted the entry of menstruating women into the temple. Sharmila interviewed 18 women — the number signifying the 18 steps in the temple. She then translated their stories into shades of black, a colour worn by the devotees, on saris. The result is a robust, yet introspective, look at the magnitude of hidden, subtle denials that women face every day.

Fashion artiste Sharmila Nair’s campaign about personal restrictions

Launched on October 7, there will be one release every day for 18 days. “The response has been more than what I expected. Women are coming out and expressing themselves, sending their black-and- white photos and talking about limitations they have encountered,” says Sharmila who earlier spearheaded a successful Mazhavil campaign for LGBTQ rights.

Sharmila’s team at Red Lotus, her online fashion company, travelled across Kerala to speak to women. What surprised her was that many women were not ready to take a firm stand on the issues they faced, despite being active and outspoken on social media.

“Several spoke openly about personal restrictions but later changed their minds and retracted their words,” she says. Despite this, she adds that enough women spoke out to enable them to create a body of stories, on nostalgia, hardship and success, for the campaign.

Writer Lekshmy Rajeev, one of the few who spoke out against women being denied entry into Sabarimala, points out that that the importance of such a documentation is always overlooked. “Ordinary women will never record their thoughts. It is important to do so for the future,” she says. She adds that every family wants their daughters to be “good girls,’ and adds, “Isn’t the home-maker the last to eat after feeding the rest of the family? And if a dish she likes is over, or the food is over before she eats, she will have to cook again. So she lets it be. Women always face such situations.”

Fashion artiste Sharmila Nair’s campaign about personal restrictions

Appreciating the frank campaign, scholar J Devika says it made her rethink the restrictions she has faced. “Unless there is a physical restriction, people don’t generally think about hidden subtle ones imposed. A forced choice is a restriction.” she says. She adds that the campaign is a brave gesture by Sharmila, “Fashion need not always be non serious or playful; it can also be strong and powerful as in this case.”

Career consultant Indu Jayaram is elated that her story drew an immediate response, with 11,000 likes. “A woman faces restrictions in every stage of her life. Till I got married, I did not know that I was not “fair”. After marriage, I learnt that colour was in terms of “fairer than Indu or darker than Indu.” My mother too was dark and faced the same bias. It affected her morale. In 50 years, nothing had changed,” says Indu who adds that in her profession she meets many girls facing a similar situation.

Of the 18 stories featured, one was not allowed to study a subject, as it was a “male domain”; another was frowned upon for driving a car.

The saris Sharmila used ranged from cotton and silk to blends. adding motifs and colours depending on the stories and body type. Silk represented the hardships of an early marriage, cotton yarn stood for the rough and tumble of driving through traffic. Restrictions imposed by children on a mother’s travelling was portrayed in a plain black cotton.

For one who speaks of gender equality but having to deal with caste-based restrictions, Sharmila designed a sari with a classic traditional border. For Lekshmy, who Sharmila says, is a rare personality and powerful voice, she conceptualised a black and burgundy Kanchipuram with swan motifs.

Though the campaign began taking shape when the Sabarimala issue was at its peak, it took eight months for Sharmila to interview, design and launch it on Instagram.

“We worked very hard, talked to so many women and entered their personal space. It was a big exercise,” says Sharmila who collaborates with weavers in Varanasi, Madurai, Indore, Aarni and Kanchipuram. “I am very pleased with the way the campaign is unravelling. Women are hashtagging and speaking out about the biases they face. Social issues inspire me; Maybe I am a fashion activist.”

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 4:32:40 AM |

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