The Karun Thakar Fund Selection Committee is pleased to announce that the 2023 – 24 scholarship awards have been allocated.
The Committee received a number of impressive applications from scholars working on textiles and dress at universities in Bangladesh, Canada, China, India, Iran, Italy, the UK and the United States. The range of research and design practices represented in the applications was wide-ranging and inspirational. The Committee selected five awardees, who have summarised their research work in their own words below.
Morgan Snoap, PhD student, Boston University, USA
Admired for its long history of craft and textile production, the city of Fes is a centuries-old hub for artisanship. Since the 13th century, Fes has specialised in silk brocade fabrics. Two garments, the patterned silk brocade belt (hizam) and kaftan (khrib) still occupy prominent positions in the visual image of Fassi textile prowess. Exquisitely crafted and costly to commission, these garments were prized financial investments that were often passed between women of a family. Most extant belts and kaftans date to the late 19th and 20th centuries, although some belts are as early as the 16th century. My research remedies this gap by analysing networks of trans-regional trade that include the Mediterranean and Sahelian worlds in the production and design of silk textiles and their metal-thread embellishments. My dissertation will seek to understand the nature of the complex socio-cultural and economic entanglements of silk brocades and analyse their continued reverberations in contemporary Fassi textile production. The Karun Thakar Scholarship Award enables me to travel to visit examples of Fassi silk brocades in museum collections across the United States, UK and Europe ahead of my upcoming period of on-the-ground dissertation research in Fes.
Elaine Man, MA student, V&A/Royal College of Art, UK
My creative practice began in my undergraduate studies of fashion design. At the core of my practice was the interrogation of ‘why’, an approach that drew me to material culture-led research. I pursued material culture research firstly through my role as archive manager for the Fashion and Textiles Education archive, then continued with an ongoing research project in collaboration with University of Michigan and the ICPSR, and now as an MA student in the joint V&A/RCA History of Design programme.
My research focuses on samfu and textiles in the New Territories, rural Hong Kong, in particular my ancestral village of San Tin, and their trans-local articulations following emigration to the UK. Samfu, a Cantonese term that translates to top and trouser, is nearly always written about, and from, the perspective of being located in Singapore and Malaysia, and as worn by working class ‘amahs’. The samfu worn by rural Hong Kong indigenous women is under-represented; the women’s dialects are intangible cultural heritages, which are disappearing with older generations, along with knowledge of samfu and women’s lived experiences.
Providing a different perspective of the British colonial legacy that preserved the indigenous peoples of Hong Kong’s cultural traditions and rituals, I expand on the research of Dr James L. Watson, Dr Rubie S. Watson on the New Territories, and Valery Garrett on samfu. Valery Garrett’s own collection has been part of the V&A since 1996, but there has been no further significant research into samfu since acquisition. I explore the intersectional complexities of Hong Kong indigenous women’s identities, their triple marginalisation through forces of colonialism, gender and urban/rural geography politics, and how these circumstances may have changed due to migration – an area not often written about through the lens of dress. The Hong Kong samfu is considered in parallel to changes in dress during the Cultural Revolution in China. As well as qualitative data in its development of construction, production, style, fibres, and dye processes/colours trans-locally from the Manchu period in China to present in the UK, and how it is worn in context of occasions by the diaspora, I would like to continue to explore the link between language, specifically homonyms, Cantonese proverbs and auspicious meanings in garment construction details. These are not just part of ritual life in rural Hong Kong villages but are the basis of social life. All of these meanings are found in oral histories, but are not found in academia, which has historically focused on the qipao and cheongsam. The samfu’s absence highlights the need for a shift in perceptions of the value of knowledge and for writing into history the important, yet absent narratives of the women of the New Territories.
I am grateful for the support of the Karun Thakar Fund and the V&A, and I look forward to future research collaboration opportunities and continuing my journey of exploring objects’ meanings as products of human manufacture; appreciating difference and common humanity through knowledge of the hand and peoples’ connection to land, self, and cultural exchanges in dress.
Karen Aikpehae, PhD student, De Montfort University, UK
I am an enthusiastic PhD student at De Montfort University with a research focus in harnessing the global gonsciousness of African fashion for sustainable development of the Nigerian fashion industry. I began researching African fashion with regards to its contributions in the global space during my master’s programme, using the chronologies of the Nigerian and Senegalese fashion industries in my dissertation. With an industry experience of over 8 years, and having operated my own fashion SME in Lagos, Nigeria, I am currently developing my research, investigating strategies for sustainability in the industry and better business models for SMEs, that build on Nigerian fashion and textile heritage.
Anahita Suri, PhD student, National Institute of Fashion Technology, India
My doctoral thesis focuses on the meaning and role of dress in the cultural continuity and image creation of the Tibetans in exile in India. This study aims to fill the gaps in our knowledge about traditional Tibetan dress, its adaptation to the varied environments of the different settlements in India and its relation to the social, cultural & political environment of the exiled community in India. This study further leads to a contemporary reinterpretation of the traditional Tibetan dress incorporating the indigenous Tibetan craft knowledge of applique thangka, to create products for the modern Tibetans in exile.
The methodology includes participant observation, survey, interviews and narrative analysis with Tibetans in the Indian cities of Darjeeling, McLeod Ganj, Chandragiri and New Delhi. The second part of the study includes exploratory research, design intervention and product development.
This research has its challenges in terms of funds required for tuition fee, travel to the settlements as well as design development. The Karun Thakar Fund Scholarship Award is very encouraging and will go a long way towards helping with the expenses and allowing me to focus on the research at hand. I thank the Karun Thakar Fund committee for this scholarship and for recognising my research to be deserving of it.
Silpinwita Das, PhD student, Visva-Bharati University, India
My doctoral research topic is ‘Explorations with natural dyes on textiles’, which deals with various aspects of natural dyes used in Indian textiles. The proposed study will be focused on India’s painted and/or printed textiles, keeping the Karun Thakar and V&A museum’s expansive collection of India’s block-printed and hand-painted textiles as a source of learning and inspiration. Investigating the dye sources of the historic textile material, through critical study of the dye-material will help to create a collection modified versions of the traditional textiles. Along with that, the scientific methods of revisiting the stages of the traditional process of dyeing, painting and printing, can also help to create a database of the natural dyes used in ancient textiles, some extinct and endangered species of dye-yielding plants, and maybe some less used or lost recipes. I will attempt to revive the lost recipes and document the process and, if successful, the modified paths may open new research possibilities. Various natural colour sources and natural fibres will be used with innocuous mordants for dyeing and printing/painting to make new products that keep the unique character and aesthetics of Indian textiles in their true sense. The chemical and physical testing of the dyed/printed/painted textiles will be performed to check the different colourfastness properties. The research will also investigate the phytochemical studies and other imparted functional properties (including antimicrobial and UV-protection of dyed/printed fabrics).