ISLAMABAD: Costumes and turbans inspired from India before partition, characterised by decorative patterns, vibrancy of colours and finesse of the fabric, have distinct styles that have developed for people from various socio-economic classes and gender.
This perspective was shared by Lahore-based Nabeel Akhtar, a designer-turned filmmaker and a creative director. He was speaking at an event organised by the Asian Study Group focusing on prints, motifs and their representation in contemporary art.
Akhtar has been associated with various arts, culture and history projects for which he has avidly conducted research.
His presentation explored symbolism rooted in the costumes worn in Mughal courts and how their prints and motifs have evolved to fit the contemporary culture followed in music videos and films today.
The contemporary media industry, he said, has tried to preserve the essence of traditional attire through experimentation that embraces a fascination for the nostalgic past, characterised with an indefinable balance of compositional elements, ideas, tonalities, moods, dazzling colours and floral ornamental aesthetic.
With the aid of visuals of miniature paintings, Akhtar explained to his audience how wardrobes of local textiles assembled by emperors Akbar and Jahangir were different from those worn by Babur (1526–30) and Humayun (1530–40; 1555–56). They continued to wear the heavy postin - a sheep skin coat - and the chafan, alongwith a coat made from wool, silk and leather; more suited to the cooler climate of Babur’s original homeland in Central Asia, he said, adding that during Akbar’s reign, cotton textiles, which could be fashioned into jamas and dupattas, entered the imperial wardrobe through tribute, purchases and gifts.
“The importance of cotton within Akbar’s wardrobe is reflected in the fact that the A’in-i Akbari (Institutes of Akbar), written between 1591 and 1592, lists 30 different types of cotton fabric and their respective prices, alongside 39 varieties of silk and 26 types of wool,” he said.
“As he was respectable of all faiths, this was depicted in the costumes’ diversity as well. Though royally hemp caps were replaced by turbans,” he said, adding Jahangir’s garments may also have contributed to this iconography, meant to further assert his independence and superiority.
Trained initially as a textile designer, Akhtar harbours a deep interest in costumes and cultures of the global South within an Indo-Persian context. He has also worked on the restoration of various heritage sites (shrines) in Punjab.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2021