New Delhi: An Indian fashion brand’s latest collection inspired by Kashmir didn’t go down too well, drawing criticism for being “insensitive” and “exotifying” the region that has been under a security lockdown since 5 August when Article 370 that granted special status to the state was scrapped.
Raw Mango, a high-end brand that specialises in Indian textiles, Wednesday posted several photographs and stories to Instagram on its collection ‘Zooni’ featuring a woman dressed in a pheran (a traditional warm kurta). Explaining its inspiration, the brand said, “Kashmir’s tree of life remains resplendent… an abundance of history, beauty and warmth…”
The posts were taken down as it began drawing criticism, but not before screenshots of it were circulated.
“Kashmir under lockdown for 60 days and Indian fashion brand Raw Mango has gone ahead and released a collection featuring Kashmiri textile traditions and aesthetics. Their price range is in the high 5 figures. Am I missing something here?” a user posted on Twitter, while another on Instagram slammed Raw Mango for propagating “neo orientalism”, and yet another disapproved of their “profiting out of miseries of Kashmiri people”.
As part of its campaign, the textile brand had posted a video designed around a Kashmiri wedding, as well as photographs of Dal Lake and other locations in the Valley. Part of it was shot by photojournalist Avani Rai, known for documenting Kashmir. Her father, renowned photographer Raghu Rai, was also a part of the campaign, though his work was not released.
Raw Mango Thursday clarified that the photographs and the campaign was conceptualised well before 5 August, when the Modi government scrapped Article 370 and put in effect a security lockdown. In fact, the release had been scheduled for 8 August, the statement added.
“In November 2017, our design team began research and textile development for ‘Zooni’, a collection drawing from Kashmir… The shoot was executed over 5 days from June 27 – July 2, 2019,” the company posted on Instagram, adding it had recalled the release “amidst public sentiment on timing, and assumptions on intent”.
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Updated press note as of Oct 4th: At Raw Mango our process of design requires a two year lead time, from research to stores. In November 2017, our design team began research and textile development for ‘Zooni’, a collection drawing from Kashmir. Each textile and silhouette is created through an exploration of this country – though traditions, rituals and craftsmanship across different regions. For instance our 2018 collection ‘Heer’, alluded to the culture of pre-partition Punjab. In May 2019, we began to explore campaign directions for Zooni, and a recce was done on May 2019 in Srinagar. The shoot was executed over 5 days from June 27 – July 2, 2019. A release was planned for August 8th, 2019 and given the political and social climate surrounding the region, the launch was postponed. The decision to withhold the images has since been under considerable discussion and concern. The decision to release the images shot by Avani Rai was the decision of the brand. It was not a decision of Avani’s, who requested to delay the release further. The campaign imagery for Zooni was released on the evening of Oct 2, 2019 on Instagram, and recalled that evening based on requesting the public sentiment on timing, as well as a request from Avani Rai.
“My father and I said we can’t be a part of this. We were contract bound but we asked if they can push the release date since we had no control over it,” said Avani, whose work on Kashmir was what prompted Sanjay Garg, owner of the 11-year-old label, to reach out to her.
“The Instagram story coming down yesterday was a result of me telling Sanjay that I’m not comfortable with this. I asked for my name to be removed,” she added.
Apart from Raw Mango, Avani was also attacked for the campaign and its timing, considering much of her career as a photographer has been spent in the Valley.
“One fashion campaign does not define what I do. I’m focusing on documenting the turmoil in Kashmir. This is very trivial in comparison. I want the people to know what is happening there through my photography and not such a campaign,” she said, but also added Raw Mango’s intentions “were to share their work inspired by the beauty and grace of Kashmir as an expression of an artist”.