Vintage clothing as a social experience

What about a vintage garment that makes it so distinctive to touch, smell and embrace? Its lived experience adds mystery to its existence long after the wearer is gone, as a repository of memories, tensions, challenges and all that is associated with human life.

This fascinating world of clothing is part of Kolkata-based Kallol Datta’s ongoing investigation into indigenous clothing practices in Southwest Asia, North Africa, the Indian subcontinent and from the Korean Peninsula, which is on display at the city’s Experimenter Gallery as part of a permanent exhibition. title Volume 3 Number 2.

Considered structural experiments, Datta’s current studies are not exquisite garments hung for display, but a chrysalis, which contains intangible remains of a body they once adorned.

“Older garments contain metadata, secrets and hidden messages. That is what fascinates me. more,” Datta said in an interview with the Deccan Herald.

The exhibition was seeded at SOAS, London, followed by a residency at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Japan, in 2021, which led to the use of traditional clothing worn after the war, particularly in the Tohoku region of Japan. Japan. Datta studied the archives of photographer Kudo Shoichi, where kakumakis documented by him, were similar in shape to the chador worn in Iran.

“With Volume 3 Number 2, the intrinsic behavior of the textile changed after the original form was deconstructed and then reconstructed. But its “totality” is still intact. Each donated item of clothing collected through clothing drives held in Aomori (Japan) and Kolkata is associated with incidents, milestones and memories.

“The donations were supplemented with on-site interviews, online conversations, letters and family albums. I hope viewers of the works will look and re-look at the objects for what they are and are not. “, he adds.

For Volume 3 Number 2Datta focused his research on the period 1945-89, exploring the native wear of late Showa Japan and ancient Indian. saris.

Datta grew up in Southwest Asia, where “the swell kandurathe sand abayas [long loose garments] in black and white” form his first memories of the time spent in the region.

“During my years at design schools in Kolkata and London, I continued to wrap and swaddle forms of clothing by layering pieces and cocooning them in such a way that the body ceased to exist. realized within months of graduating that I would be a garment maker,” he said.

While structural experiences offer endless possibilities for tactile engagement with memories, the understanding of the societies these garments reveal is illuminating.

“I found parallels between Japanese women wearing the kakumaki working with Iranian women wearing chadors work. During the Late Showa period, many Imperial Edicts from the Emperor introduced cloth rations and limited personal agency in women’s wardrobes by prescribing appropriate and modest styles, including colors, discouraging clothing. adoption of Western clothing and even wedding appropriate. kimono patterns. It reminded me of the Ayatollah’s orders prescribing appropriate clothing for working Iranian women – no makeup, cosmetics, perfumes, only navy blue, brown or black. chadorshe says.

Setting his most adamant conclusion based on the studies, Datta said, “I may sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating: the veil predates Islam. The veil was popular on the Korean peninsula. and in Japan until the recent past. Every dominant majority, culture, region and nation has used clothing as a tool to oppress, dominate and subjugate minorities.”

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist, editor and arts consultant. She blogs at

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