Clothes might not make men but they definitely do announce them to the world. There’s a certain liberation associated with this concept of being able to use your clothes and accessories to tell stories about yourself – right up to the point societal norms come in. And then poof! The dream is shattered just as quickly as it had begun.
We live in an age where the fashion rulebook is constantly being tossed out of windows, with designers and influencers creating one ‘outrageous’ statement after another, but we also happen to live in a country where all creativity is loosely wrapped in unspoken shackles. This is especially true when it comes to rules pertaining to gender — what you can and can’t get away with as a man or a woman.
Oh, and those are the only two genders allowed, mind you.
As you can imagine, frustration ensues for those who don’t subscribe to this pre-ordained protocol, and that is exactly what Mumbai-based photographer Neha Karode’s photo-series aims to capture. Titled “Love Story of a Cloth”, the piece marries a fictional tale with a group of photographs to discuss gender fluidity, patriarchy and gender norms.
The story is told through the viewpoint of a cloth, about a boy who never truly feels free to be himself but takes refuge in his collection of clothes. He ultimately conquers his fears — as every hero in a fable does — and puts forth his truth to the world.
Instead of using a first person narrative, Neha personifies a piece of cloth: an object that is impossible to gender, and has it narrate this story. She got together with her close queer friend Shiraz Singh to style a group of photographs that would complement the ideas in the story. The photographs — nine in all, featuring four different looks — represent varied moods but explore a single definitive idea of gender fluidity. Each ensemble carries drapes and garments from across the country (over time, Shiraz has collected pieces from Ahmedabad, Manipur and Goa, to name just a few) which, ideally, any gender should be able to wear without judgment. The series kicks off with a neutral outfit, one that fits best with the regimented boundaries of dressing in our society, albeit featuring a beautiful drape from Ahmedabad that’s primarily used in the construction of burkas. From there, each outfit, and consequently, each image, is more whimsical, experimenting with colours, make-up and stylistic ideas.
Neha and Shiraz have not only introduced a new perspective to an important conversation, but they’ve done it with arresting visuals, reiterating that gender is a social construct, one not everyone needs. “Love Story of a Cloth” is well-told, and while it may not overhaul the system, it definitely empathizes with anyone struggling with their own gender identity.
You can check out the project here.