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Fashioning Diaspora Space design, Helen Scalway, 2007

Fashioning Diaspora Space design, Helen Scalway, 2007

Research Project

British Asian Style

Moving Patterns

Research Project

The Fashioning Diaspora Space project investigated the presence of South Asian clothing textiles in British culture in both colonial (1850s to 1880s) and post-colonial (1980s to 2000s) times. Through this dual focus it provided historical depth to contemporary debates over British Asian fashion and multiculturalism, whilst simultaneously relating the V&A's historical collections and knowledge of South Asian textiles to their contemporary contexts of reception.

The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through its strategic research programme on Diasporas, Migration and Identities. Based at the V&A and Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), the research brings together expertise from across disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

The project team were: Philip Crang (Principal Investigator, Professor of Cultural Geography, RHUL), Sonia Ashmore (Research Fellow, V&A), Christopher Breward (Acting Director of Research, V&A), Rosemary Crill (Senior Curator, South Asia, V&A), Shivani Derrington (Doctoral Research Student, Department of Geography, RHUL), Felix Driver (Professor of Human Geography, RHUL), Lesley Miller (Head of Textiles, V&A) and Helen Scalway (Research Associate, RHUL).

Read Helen's blog written during the project

British Asian Style

British fashion has long been enriched by the presence of South Asian textiles. The V&A’s own collections bear witness to this, from the fashionable chintzes of the 17th and 18th centuries through the Boteh or Paisley patterns that fed the shawl craze of the 19th century. However, notwithstanding the influence of Indian visitors previously, it is over the last 50 years that the clothing of South Asian people who have settled in Britain has helped to transform everyday cultures of dress into more cosmopolitan forms. In turn, a recent generation of designers, stylists and artists, often educated in British art and design colleges, has responded in exciting ways to these influences, recasting the traditions of British and South Asian styles.

Debating Dress

British Asian Style is not the preserve of design professionals; anyone with a British Asian identity negotiates it every day, and many British people without South Asian ancestry also choose to style themselves with South Asian materials. In 2008 and 2009 the V&A held a series of group discussions designed to find out more about how people understand and feel about such issues.

Wardrobe Stories

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

In the summer of 2008 interviews were conducted with a number of British Asian women living in London, discussing the role of South Asian textiles and styles in their everyday practices of dress. This webpage presents a selection of edited excerpts from these interviews, as the women interviewed talk about clothes, the act of dressing and what choices go into the creation of a unique personal style. In these narratives specific themes that are raised include: the influences the women feel have been significant in the creation of their wardrobes: dress and its role in negotiating public spaces: the pleasure, as well as the anxiety of shopping for weddings: how clothing can materialise relations between mothers and daughters. At the outset I want to express my thanks for all those who talked to me, let me invade their homes and wardrobes, and so kindly agreed to be represented here.

Transnational Styles

'clothes are…about how you feel when you put them on.' Sandeep Rai 

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Our sensory fascination with clothes lies in the tactile experience of them. Clothes sit on the body and stand between us and the public world. We look around, see what is in fashion and what is out of fashion. We choose or discard items depending on how they look, feel and what they say about us. In the act of dressing we create and present our own personal style. Here, in front of the mirror, in what Sophie Woodward has called the 'wardrobe moment', British Asians make their daily wrangle with style. Our clothes are linked to tradition as well as providing a method to create individual style. In her wardrobe a woman develops her own aesthetic look which mediates her relationship to the social world.

Here are some excerpts which describe how some women saw their relationship with South Asian clothing develop. For Mandy her family inspired her to wear South Asian dress. Her own style of dressing developed over time with reference to multiple cultural references:

'For me its mainly it is to do with the way my family network is around me. Because of my mum, my aunts, because we have always had a close knit family I have always seen Gran and everybody wearing Indian clothing. And then from a young age, because I was the eldest girl in the house my aunts tended to put me in Indian clothing […] I have been brought up with it and as time has gone on fashions have changed so I still wear Indian clothing, but with a Western mix to it. So I think it started from a young age. At least for me.'

Nidhi’s wardrobe has developed to include influences from both South Asia and more western styles. The development of this collection both enables her to have appropriate clothing for different occasions and marks out an individuality of style and expression of her sense of self:

'I like to wear this type of Indian embroidered scarf or this type of Indian style necklace. I have lots of these things as part of my wardrobe, I am just attracted by these things, as they remind me of, you know of my heritage. I am just naturally drawn to them. So it is not a conscious effort to wear them, but there is just so much in my wardrobe that I do anyway. I am happy that I have an alternative to western wear. I do have friends who say you are so lucky. You have something completely different you can wear. Of course storage issues are different, which I always remind them about. But it is nice to be able to do that, to have access to the luxurious fabrics, the vibrant colours, the embroidery that goes with it.'

Nisha, too has felt that this access to another set of sartorial choices or influences has enabled an everyday look that speaks to individuality as well as traditions and heritages. For her, these choices became more apparent in adulthood:

'When I went to Art College and it was like, "Wow, you’re an Indian princess" and "You’ve got this and that and that available to wear" and I felt that this was fantastic. It was around this time that I went to India and I suddenly started buying Indian things or wearing things a bit more that were Indian, especially jewellery. I still wasn’t ready to wear the big kind of saris but I’d wear the big chunky ethnic jewellery and all that.'

For Chandan the development of her own personal style has in part reflected the increasing access in Britain to South Asian fashions. In particular, the cross over between high street and Asian clothing styles is something Chandan has seen develop and actively included into her wardrobe:

'If you go into the local shopping area, there are loads of different Asians of different backgrounds. A lot of them are wearing [Punjabi] suits. A lot of the younger people are wearing [Punjabi] suits and they’re much more fashionable, so there is a kind of different atmosphere whereas I was brought up in an area in Nottingham where everyone wore English clothes and you wouldn’t have gone out in Asian clothes that much. Or you might just try it, whereas now you can wear tops with jeans and you can wear Indian shoes with jeans and so you don’t think about it as much. I think there’s much more of a casual approach or I feel that I can wear some of my Asian clothes with other clothes as it will look quite nice […] so I think in that sense well it feels much more natural as well.'

For British Asian women the relationship with dress and their expression of self through clothes, is refracted by family histories of migration and wider patterns of cross-cultural influence. Dress practices connect people to a network of cultural influences, British, Asian and, of course, ‘British Asian’. Out of our clothing choices an individual look emerges which speaks out and says, for better or worse, ‘this is me’.

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

The Private & Public Worlds of Dress

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

'But at the end of the day all clothes do have their place don’t they? You wouldn’t turn up to work, in sparkly spangly lengha…' Sandeep Rai

Dress can be thought about as a personal, bodily experience as well as the way we present ourselves in public. Our clothes may even act as facade which we stand behind when we leave our homes and enter the wider world. In the words of Jo Entwistle, a sociologist of fashion, the dress we step out in becomes the "the meeting place of the private and public". The wardrobe we create works on many levels.

It facilitates our everyday needs for appropriate clothing. Deciding what is appropriate involves both reflecting on the presentation of our self and on the character of the environment we will be presenting ourselves within. Such issues have a particular pertinence for British Asian women as they navigate their own and others’ senses of both wider cultural fields – as British, South Asian, women – and personal individuality. In the following passages I present issues of workwear, wedding dress and broader negotiations of both ‘fitting in’ and ‘standing out’.

Wardrobe stories: British Asian style
Wardrobe stories: British Asian style

Work & Everyday Spaces

Nina, reflecting on the clothes she wears to work describes how the different sections of her wardrobe are separate and distinct. South Asian clothing is appropriate for certain times in her life and at other times other dress strategies are appropriate. Her work clothes for example are not influenced by South Asian dress forms and are instead referenced by western professional sartorial expectations. When asked how Indian clothes impacted on her professional identity Nina, replied:

'I just treat the different styles as totally separate, I have completely separate clothing for everything. I have a work wardrobe where I don’t think [South Asian clothing] impacts in anyway.'

Working in a corporate environment Nina has developed a wardrobe which is appropriate for this environment and its dress codes:

'I wouldn’t wear Indian clothing to work only because of what I do[…] In a professional environment you need to be in professional clothing, professional dress. So I would rather keep it separate. In fact you actually look forward to dressing up when the occasion comes if you don’t wear it everyday.'

Like many other women, by separating the everyday work wear and the special occasion wear Nina keeps her interest and enjoyment of special (in this case South Asian) clothing alive and vital. This distinction between everyday and special occasional wear is a strategy deployed by a number of the women spoken to in these interviews with regards to South Asian clothing. This separation of clothing strategies negotiates and enables participation for these women in different areas of life. Ansuya jokingly refers to her wardrobe as harbouring her 'split personalities'. For work she wears trousers and western tailored tops but at home she changes into Indian clothing. She finds both comfortable and both to be an expression of her self, or of her different selves at different times in her daily life. She feels this stems from when she first arrived in Britain and wanted to be fully able to access fully British work and social spaces:

'I think when we first came here there weren’t many Asian people here. And obviously I did not want to stand out if I wore my sari. I wanted to be part of everything you know. And so I think that’s stuck with me, even now. I mean there are people who wear their own [South Asian] clothes, but I’ve never felt right wearing saris to work.'

Sumi too adapted her professional identity through dress when migrating from Sri Lanka to the UK. In Sri Lanka as a medical student a Sari was considered appropriate and authoritative in the context of a hospital. To access work space in the UK Sumi opted instead for western tailored garments, reflecting both a subconscious desire to fit in as well as the more practical considerations of her profession:

'I think subconsciously [the desire to fit in] must have played a part [in not wearing a sari] because I think as much as you want to stand out you also want to be part of the herd and be seen as you know, in the same gang. It wouldn’t have been practical either because I worked within a lab and had to wear a white coat.'

Women are of course motivated in their dress choices by the everyday practicalities of life. Another key consideration Sumi faced when dressing was her long commute: 'I had to travel from beyond Portsmouth into London on a daily basis Monday to Friday'. Dressing therefore in western tailored clothes enabled access to the work space, was reflective of her professional identity in the UK and was considered practical for her everyday life.


Wedding Memories

A moment which cropped up again and again in the discussions with the women interviewed was that of the wedding, both their own and of others. The women I spoke to expressed how this was an occasion for which they wore the most specially selected garments, thinking carefully about what did and did not sartorially express them. Indeed much time and attention it would seem is spent thinking about wedding clothes, shopping for them and of course wearing them.

Wedding clothes are a method by which we might choose to express an idea of ourselves to others. At this moment perhaps ideas of functionality or convenience are secondary to ideas of display and presentation. For Momtaz, in projecting her future wedding attire, she would choose for a wedding garment something out of the realm of the everyday, a red sari with vivid gold embroidery. In fact she feels that this would be only time in her life she could imagine carrying this look off. In her everyday wardrobe Momtaz prioritises colour and individuality. Her collection of clothes houses a rich variety of colours, textures and fabrics, yet a bridal sari is an even more glamorous garment befitting this kind of moment. As she says:

'I’m sure the only time in my life I’ll wear one [a sari] is when I get married, I think that to me says wedding, you must get married in the sari. [...] It’s like an occasion and I would definitely go for a red goldy over the top, as nice embroidery as possible, I think it just suits a wedding really well and it’s the one time you can just look your most glamorous and everyone comes to see you, I think it just feels the right thing to do.'

Whilst reflecting our expression of self, wedding clothes also reflect the gifts of others. Brides are often gifted wedding saris by their new families. Reflecting on this, Nidhi describes special saris are a repository for memories of the times they were worn and the history behind them.

'I was given [a sari] on my wedding day – the sari which I changed into before I went to my in-laws house. It was not one I was going to wear, but one I had draped on. It was my Mother-In-Law’s and there is also jewellery to go with it – it was her mother-in-laws and she was given it at that time as well, sort of a family heirloom.'

For Sohini, her wedding outfits evoke wonderful memories too, but in this case of shopping with friends for her big day. That her wedding garment was chosen in conjunction with others illustrates that how we dress is often thought about through the eyes of others around us.

'[The] registry isn’t a great big affair with three hundred people. You know it’s just a small intimate affair and I felt that [a cream lengha] was far more appropriate. It is a bit plainer, just some embroidery around the front, not too much. You know, really nice, actually that is outfit’s quite special to me as my friends picked it out for me. I took a couple of friends shopping with me. And I’m terrible at shopping. I get fed up really easily whereas one of my friends is just shop till you drop! So they were great. It was one of the last outfits I tried on, and I was like, "Yeah okay, what do you think?", and they went, "That’s the one" and I said, "Are you sure?", and they went, "Yeah that is definitely the one". And so that was my registry outfit and I have actually worn that a few times afterwards, and I love it to bits …'

The above edited excerpts talk about fabric and clothes worn for everyday wear, work environments and special occasions. Garments are discussed as becoming something more than just items or fabric. Such clothes are able to become mementos of the occasion last worn, devices to make us feel good, or are befitting to the environment we find ourselves in. The emotive qualities of these garments are apparent, they can become heirlooms to be passed down and worn again, symbolic of their former uses and owner. They are material memories.


'Fitting in' & 'Standing Out'

The women spoken to here expressed the decisions over wearing or not wearing Asian clothing as a negotiation between wanting to express themselves and wanting to fit in. This negotiation was in turn layered on to a larger cultural map, and the dual desires to assert their links to South Asia but to also follow what they considered to be normative dress codes in mainstream British culture. As Samia articulates, dressing in South Asian clothing is often a negotiation between standing out and fitting in:

'I wouldn’t say I’m the sort of person who needs to fit in but at the same time I don’t necessarily want to stand out either. If I’m going to a very Asian event then I’ll just wear something appropriate. If I’ve got a South Asian dress that I’m going to wear to a non-Asian event then I’ll just tone it down slightly, so that I don’t stand out.'

Clothes choices to Samia are informed by a variety of influences which speak to our numerous ideas of identity and self. Her use of South Asian clothing is a reflection of her transnational networks. Her everyday wardrobe consists of a combination of clothes brought in Britain and in Pakistan. Her wardrobe works in conjunction with her mother’s and her sister’s collection of clothes and is added to by aunts and female relatives in Pakistan. This fusion of collection practices reflects the fusion of identity expressed through her clothes. Samia does not think that as a British Asian wearing South Asian clothes necessarily speaks to a diasporic identity:

'I don’t think that wearing South Asian clothes means that you have a more secure identity or not. It might just mean that you get your fashion inspiration elsewhere. Maybe you’re following a different trend because we live here [in the UK]; we have cultural influences outside of our homes'.

Diasporic clothing practices can be articulated for Samia through both South Asian and British fashions.

For Kiran, this development of a personal look is not just about traditions or cultural norms; it is about the creation of new and innovative ways of dress which speak to the British and Asian side of her:

'[Dressing in South Asian clothes] It’s not a sort of hankering for what’s back there. It’s saying well there’s a rich tradition there, which you can change, it can morph with you.'

Equally, Sohini expresses her individuality in Asian dress by creating her own style:

'Well the very fact that I would be choosing to wear a sari of a certain colour maybe, or a certain quality means that I’m conforming to […] what people expect me to wear and what to do. And the way, the way that I would [express] my individuality would probably be in the design of it maybe, or the shade of it, and […] what I would choose to use for my accessories'

In addition to thinking about British Asian audiences when dressing in Asian clothes, Sohini feels she elicits appreciation from non-British Asian audiences. Sometimes standing out and fitting in collide and garments bring to mind the memories of these encounters.

'I think they just appreciate it. They just think, "Oh she, she looks nice". Hopefully they think I look pretty in this sari, hope they’re thinking it suits me […] Actually once I was going to a friend’s registry wedding and I was just getting the train and I wore a shalwar khameez, it was summer time and it was just really lovely pale lilac colour with silver embroidery on it, and as I got onto a train this old woman got up, she was an English lady and she said, "My don’t you look pretty" and I said, "Oh thank you". And it was my outfit and actually when I’ve been in the street a few times, you know, walking from one event to another or something, some people have sort of commented, "Oh that’s really pretty" or "You look lovely". And you know, English people, like young girls and they really like it. They really appreciate it and I think, I think a lot of people like the fact that you’re wearing it.'double_image_asian_style_610.jpg


Mothers & Daughters

Clothing choices are not only negotiated with wider publics or with strangers that we will encounter. They are bound up with our relations to our nearest and dearest. In the interviews, the women remarked in particular on clothes and how they materialise relations between mothers and daughters. How then does a relationship with South Asian clothing develop through maternal influences and how does it differ through generations?

Nina sees that relationship she and her mother have with their clothes as fundamentally the same. Whilst ideas of fashion or choice of cuts differ from person to person, from time to time, women through the generations wear Indian clothing with the same motivations. As Nina explains: 'I think the relationship is the same if you look deep down, but there are different encounters; you wear it in different ways. The concept is the same, it is traditional, you feel good, you are carrying on the tradition but I wear it because I like it.' Traditions and expectations are carried on but simultaneously a main imperative is more personal and revolves around how we look and feel in a chosen item of clothing.

Chandan sees her relationship with her mother was crucial in developing her relationship with South Asian clothes:

'Actually my mum took more pride in me wearing [salwar khameez] suits than I did […] It’s so funny, it’s really hard to explain that her eyes kind of used to light up if you came down wearing a suit…'.

Clothes that Chandan brought with her mother on shopping trips remain meaningful as material memories of moments spent together:

'Each of the outfits still reminds me of occasions spent with my mum, of us buying outfits together […] This was something we both got a lot of pleasure from, choosing fabrics together. I also remember occasions she wore some of the outfits that she made from these fabrics so for me it was just quite nice as one way of remembering her. These clothes were something important to her and to me.'

Other women also expressed how they kept clothes of a family member as a memorial to them. Ansuya still has the sari of her ‘Nani’ (her mother’s mother):

'She passed away when I was two and half years old. I’ve got a couple of her saris that I’ve kept […] I think I wore them when I first got them but they’re so fragile I don’t want to wear them now. I’ve just kept them and I think I’ll always keep them.'

Nidhi also has kept meaningful clothing from relatives:

'… not so long ago my maternal aunt passed away and we took one of her saris each. That was very special. I actually wore it for a religious ceremony, […] it kind of felt like she was there with me.' The biography of this garment extends beyond the life of its original owner, evoking memories of them when re-worn.

Mothers also offer suggestions, tips and advice on how to navigate a path through the different garments and clothing customs of South Asian fashions. As Sohini mentions, it is through consultation with mothers, aunts and female relations that one gains knowledge of appropriate garments for different contexts:

'You get a feeling for what is right to wear. And also, your mum probably suggests things or will say "Wear a sari." And if you said, "Oh, I might wear this lengha", and your mum would probably say, "Well I think it might be better if you wear a sari, probably be nicer if you wore a sari". And sometimes you know you do get comments like, "Oh why didn’t you wear a sari?" so you probably would work out what clothes are right to wear.'

A combination of subtle indicators and more direct persuasions offer a map by which a person navigates their way through these decisions and develops their own personal style.

For many women interviewed here the relationship between their tastes and preferences in South Asian clothing was significantly developed in relation to their relationship with their mother. Women kept clothing as mementos, found their mothers to be an ideal shopping companion and relied on their mothers to house in part their collection of South Asian clothes. This link to the maternal home perhaps illustrates another meaning to South Asian clothing practices. They might be seen to link a person to a set of traditions from South Asia, but they also seem to link these women on a more personal level to the home. These fabrics symbolically tie women to their familial homes and keep alive and vibrant connections with loved ones.



The conversations related above open up the idea that public and private worlds are mediated through clothes. In front of the mirror as we create our own personal style, we ask ourselves which dress practices are appropriate and can best help us mediate our relationship to the outside world. How we choose to inhabit the world is indeed enacted through the clothes that sit on our bodies, acting as a second skin. They become the public expression of our inner thoughts on the self. Of course, how we enact this dialogue between self and other, public and private differs from person to person. The preferences and styles presented on this webpage are both personal and specific. By relating the stories narrated in these interviews my aim is not to provide an overview of British Asian dress practices. Regionalism, religion, age and gender all come in to play when an individual articulates ideas of self and the social world through dress. Some areas of British Asian dress, such as veiling, are not explored here. Many other stories are relevant in this tale. British South Asian fashions reflect a diversity of experience as diverse as the group of people conceptualised as being situated within this group. But here are wider insights to be gained from these specific testimonies.

Clothes pull in the world around us and help remake it our own. Through our wardrobes we develop a set of dress styles that express ourselves and say back to the world here is me. The dress choices described above both construct in Britain a cosmopolitan dress style that is worldly wise, but also draws the world close in making it personal. These wardrobe stories are simultaneously global, geopolitical and also personal, subjective and emotional. Moreover, the accounts developed in these interviews point to the limits of framing clothes, and diasporic culture more generally, around oppositions between tradition and modernity. Clothes are seen to signify memories, pull in families and link us in to social networks. They are also a site of innovation and improvisation. It is evident from the narratives above that ideological differences between ‘traditional’ or ‘Asian’ and ‘modern’ or ‘western’ clothes are not necessarily tangible in front of the wardrobe.

The use and engagement with cultural artefacts such as clothing expresses a plurality of identity and experience. British South Asians have worked with and challenged British sartorial ideas by the development of individual styles and relationships with British South Asian fashion. A range of fashion styles have emerged that are neither exclusively South Asian nor exclusively British, but exhibit and use references from both areas. The diasporean aesthetics created in Britain today are a distinctive expression of British ideas of self and social identity.


Your style

British cultures of fashion and dress have been enriched immensely by British Asian people, textiles and styles. Click on the individuals below to see what they make of their own British Asian style.

Moving Patterns

Moving Patterns installation - Carrier bags by Nilesh Mistry and Samar Abbas

Moving Patterns installation - Carrier bags by Nilesh Mistry and Samar Abbas

Moving Patterns was an artists' installation at the Royal Geographical Society shown from 7 - 21 May 2009.

The work bore witness to the way in which pattern and ornament are laden with meaning and memory in both colonial and post-colonial times. It was produced by Helen Scalway, a visual artist based in the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, as part of a large, long term interdisciplinary project, ‘Fashioning Diaspora Space’, with the Victoria & Albert Museum, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

With a focus on ornament, Helen Scalway explored the processes of material cultural exchange between Britain and South Asia in a visual re-imagining of the relations between place, identity and national cultures, featuring guest artists Nilesh Mistry, Samar Abbas, Sumi Perera, Anjana Patel, Nagat El-Mahi, Jagmohan Bangani and Punam Sharma.

Read Helen's blog written during the Fashioning Diaspora Space project and Moving Patterns exhibition

Helen Scalway is an artist primarily concerned with research into the visual representation of the experience of the contemporary cosmopolitan city. Her focus is on urban pattern and ornament which codes places and things, fills them with meaning, suffuses them with memory, and badges identities.

Between Britain and South Asia in particular, textile patterns have shuttled back and forth; this exhibition explored this entanglement of cultures and the way it is shaping our urban environment. The installation sought to enact the re-framings and recontextualisations of identities in the cosmopolitan city, in evoking such sites as the street, the shop, the museum, and the way mobile, mutable pattern flows between them in a process of endless becoming, like cities themselves.


The exhibition consisted of three main elements:

  • Carrier bags on wooden pallets were ornamented by different artists and a giant one acted as a screen for projected photographs showing South Asian places of textile production. Paper carrier bags were used to evoke the transience, mobility and fragility of the world of clothes consumption; the wooden pallets, the containerised intercontinental voyages of the goods round the world.
  • A plan chest contained drawings exploring ideas based on a British South Asian textile retail outlet. Both the pallets and the plan chest evoked contemporary commerce between South Asia and London.
  • A mini-museum faced these, a visual reflection on nineteenth century cultures of textile collecting and display, suggesting the long entanglement of past and present textile cultures.


Means and Meaning by Helen Scalway, 2009
The Moving Patterns exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London was without any one overarching or monolithic narrative. It was a display of traces of various trains of thought, some still in the process of becoming, pursued through acts of drawing, concerned with the ‘textile shop’ and the ‘museum’ textile collection.

Download: Means and Meaning (PDF file, 58.6 KB)

Geography and Drawing Together by Felix Driver, 2009
In a body of work stretching over more than a decade, the artist Helen Scalway has collaborated with geographers in her projects to map and excavate the entanglements of modern urban living.

Download: Geography and Drawing Together (PDF file, 5.2 KB)

Fashioning Diaspora Space by Cherrill Lewis, 2009
This essay was written for the exhibition catalogue for Moving Patterns, held at the Royal Geographical Society, London, May 2009. It is reproduced here in its entirety. The copyright remains with the author, Cherrill Lewis.

Download: Fashioning Diaspora Space (PDF file, 9.3 KB)

Contributing artists 

Samar Abbas
Samar Abbas is a freelance designer who was born in Kenya and moved to the United Kingdom aged ten. He studied Fine Art at college before training in Product Design at the University of Hertfordshire.

His inspiration stems from his history and memories to the present.

Jagmohan Bangani
Jagmohan Bangani gained his MA in fine arts from Dehradun in 2000. In 2005, he received a fellowship from the Ford Foundation and went to Winchester School of Art in the UK to study Fine Art. He explored an interest in working with texts and scripts from different languages and imagined possibilities using text from the English language.

Nagat El-Mahi
Nagat El-Mahi is a Sudanese painter and designer. She studied painting at the College of Fine and Applied Art in Khartoum where she graduated in 1998 and then worked as a teaching assistant until she moved to London in 2005.

Born in Darfur in 1972, Nagat's paintings draw from her experience of living in different parts of her continent-like country, which has been ravaged by civil wars and rapid social transformation during the last few decades. While her aesthetics are deeply rooted in her multicultural Afro Nubian and Arabic/Islamic heritage, Nagat sees herself as a cosmopolitan artist who seeks to learn from and engage a global audience.

Nilesh Mistry
Nilesh Mistry was born in Mumbai, India and came to Britain with his family in 1975. He studied illustration at Harrow School of Art followed by a post graduate degree in the same subject at Central St Martin’s. Since graduating in 1990 he has worked as a freelance illustrator.

Anjana Patel
Anjana Patel was born in Lancashire and is a freelance designer based in Gloucestershire. She studied at Manchester Metropolitan University, where she graduated with a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Crafts in 2004.

Anjana’s work is inspired by architectural references found in organic and man-made structures and by her experience of living in the diversity of the British population, drawing on her Indian Hindu roots with particular attention to rich colours, edges and construction.

Sumi Perera
Sumi Perera’s work is an amalgam of influences of her work in the East (Sri Lanka, her native country) and the West (the United Kingdom, her adoptive country) as a doctor, scientist and artist. Slight variations on the theme are used to generate 'unique multiples', while blurring boundaries between the artist/artisan, orient/occident and the past/present.

She exhibits internationally and her works are held in many collections, including Tate Britain; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Guanlan Museum, China; and printROOM at Rotterdam.

Punam Sharma
Punam Sharma completed her BFA (Painting) in 1998 and MFA (Painting) in 2001 at Delhi College of Art, New Delhi. She has won several awards including the M.F. Hussain Award from the Delhi College of Art in 2001 and the Nokia Art Award (Asia Pacific) in 2000.

Related links

Below is a small selection of links related to the Fashioning Diaspora Space research project.

  • AHRC Diasporas podcasts

    A series of podcasts, two of which are by members of the Fashioining Diaspora Space project team.

  • Royal Holloway University of London

    The Royal Holloway University of London were partners in the Fashioning Diaspora Space research project.

  • British Sari Story

    The British Sari Story is an annual competition asking people to use the sari as a canvas and a starting point for design and thought.

The Fashioning Diaspora Space project was funded by the Arts and Humantities Research Council.

Arts & Humanities Research Council logo

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