This is not a fashion piece. This is, in fact, the story of Sharmila’s Almirah Project and the emotions of a woman.
The year is about to end, and like always, we all wonder – ‘How so fast?’. These past few months have been liberating for few, but caged for many. Maybe, that’s why the word of the year – Mental Health – appear to be the 2020 buzzword, to date. When the lockdown came knocking on our doors, many of us had a grave time adjusting to the new, and that spiked up a lot of emotions among us. For Sharmila Nair, a fashion artist from Kochi and the founder of Redlotus, it was no less. The lockdown made her feel trapped, and as an artist who loves to explore identities through her fashion label, it felt as though she didn’t have the opportunity to grow and or even, feel inspired.
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As she sat through the lockdown, looking at her sarees the world was yet to see, folded and placed in an organised manner in her Almirah, she thought of something that most of us were ignorant of. She thought of what women all around the world would be facing in these troubled times because she too was living through that experience. Depression, anxiety, burnout, burden, helplessness, fear, insecurity, you name it – Sharmila experienced this, so did other women.
She also thought of the concept of an Almirah, a gift that is given to the women of Kerala on their second day after the wedding. When you look at it afar, it’s just a piece of metal or wood. But, when you look closer, you understand the relationship it holds in a woman’s life. It’s her own, and something she calls hers; her private property. Her invaluable possessions, her stories, her memories, her secrets lie within the confines of her Almirah. Sharmila saw this through the eyes of all the women who were feeling all sorts of emotions and understood her calling. Thus the Almirah Project was born.
The Almirah Project is an expression of emotions; a woman’s myriad emotions. According to Sharmila, “This is a metaphorical way of looking at the condition of women in a patriarchal society.” Sharmila tries to answer one question throughout this project – “Who is the real woman behind the Almirah?”. We see that depicted beautifully in a manner that relates to a lot of women. Who would have known that something as simple as an Almirah would have many untold stories, and is considered a safe space for many women out there? In these troubled times, many women had to cut off from what they would call ‘freedom’ because they had to stay within the four walls of their homes, balancing home duties with their work. Elderly women who found solace outdoors felt trapped sitting at homes. Young women, who had dreams to achieve, are questioning their life choices because they are experiencing an existential crisis. The Almirah Project was able to portray all these bubbled up emotions in a fashional yet representative manner.
Ramya Suvi, a trained Indian classical dancer and the main protagonist of the project, was asked to wear her emotions. She had to portray eight-strong emotions namely Happiness, Sensuousness, Thoughtful, Trapped, Sadness, Frustration, Anger, and Powerfulness, and she did it with such ease. The man behind the camera, Ratheesh Ravindran, had to bring Sharmila’s concept to light, so he to play around with the colours of the sarees that were being depicted. Each saree was associated with an emotion, based on its colours. Satheesh Mohan served as the project assistant, Imnah Felix and Anzar Mohammed were responsible for the art direction and editing respectively, Caroline Geogre, Ansari Izmake, and Shireen Yasir looked after the styling, make-up, and hair independently.
The fashion-art installation highlighted the secrets, desires and hopes of women locked away in an ‘Almirah’. If there’s one thing you can take away from Sharmila Nair’s Almirah Project, it’s that stories weaved in fashion hold a lot more meaning, making it empowering for the person who wears it.