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Rooms Full of Ism

Installation artist Shilpa Chavan explored fetishism in fashion when she represented India at the fifth edition of Mode Biennale Arnhem in the Netherlands

Written by VIDYA PRABHU | Published: July 24, 2013 4:22 am

It was in March last year that designer and installation artist Shilpa Chavan spoke about design at the inaugural edition of the India Design Forum in Delhi’s Le Meridien hotel. Among those impressed with Chavan’s grasp over her subject and her body of work — known to transcend the boundaries between art and fashion — was renowned Dutch trendsetter,curator and publisher Lidewij Edelkoort,also a guest speaker at the event. The two bonded over a shared passion for design and decided to stay in touch.

Six months ago,when Edelkoort — once hailed as one of the world’s 25 most influential people in fashion by Time magazine — came on board as the curator of the fifth edition of the Mode Biennale Arnhem (MoBA) in the Netherlands,she knew who she would invite. “I was,in fact,the first name on her list. Edelkoort was fine with me sending across my previous creations for the show but I chose to make new pieces,” says Chavan,whose label Little Shilpa has become a brand to reckon with in the field of Indian design.

The event positions Arnhem as an international fashion city,and the fifth edition of MoBA marks the 60th anniversary of the city’s famous ArtEZ Institute of the Arts. It started on June 8 and was on till July 21,during which the city hosted a series of exhibitions,seminars and events focusing on “Fetishism in Fashion”. The exhibitions were held in different rooms of the main building with each room dealing with a specific concept or fetish; these included nudism,regionalism,nipponism,shamanism,infantilism,nomadism,patriotism,consumerism,sado-masochism,absurdism,legendism,spiritualism and romanticism.

Chavan — like other participants — was asked to choose from this range and she decided to present work on spiritualism and romanticism. “While I Am Hungry was my ensemble for the romanticism room,Moksh Memoirs is about spiritualism,” says the designer,who had her creations ready in a span of three weeks.

With her knack for imagining things in a new light,Chavan’s works certainly did not disappoint design lovers. For I Am Hungry,she used innerwear (black bras and lace stockings) to create outer wear — a headgear and a shoulder piece. “I offered my take on romanticism through the common love for lacy lingerie. The headpiece with its splayed open legs — clad in matching black stockings and sculpted out of wire and acrylic — hints at the sexual aspect of fetishism,albeit with a tinge of humour,” she explains.

She viewed spiritualism through the prism of a traditional puja thali. “My second creation,Moksh Memoirs,has been crafted using raw materials that make up the prayer thali. So I made a neckpiece with cotton strands,which is basically raw cotton used for diyas. This apart,I fashioned headgear out of cotton and white thread,that is used for making garlands. A dhoti completed the look,” says Chavan,whose works were showcased at the event alongside those by established international sartorialists such as Damir Doma,Gareth Pugh,Rick Owens and Yohji Yamamoto.

The esteemed company and encouraging response aside,it has also been a learning experience for the petite designer. She even addressed a gathering in Arnhem as part of this event. “At a session held earlier this month,I spoke about my work and the talk veered towards fetishism in India and the recent Delhi rape incident. MoBA also made me realise that fetishism needn’t always be just about sex; it goes beyond that,” she says.

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