The Art of Dress Making
with Bushra Waqas Khan
Words by Shankar Tripathi
Bushra Waqas Khan is a printmaker based in Lahore. She works with the patterns of affidavit paper from Pakistan to create miniature dresses.
For some viewers of Bushra’s art, her dresses are an expression of the continued influence of colonisation in South Asia while for others, her art condemns patriarchal norms.
For Mysticeti’s art writer, Shankar, it represents ways in which Victorian couture influenced contemporary notions about gender-based agency.
Let’s join Shankar for a guided tour of Bushra’s art ~
HER INSPIRATION ~
“This piece of paper (affidavit) resonates with the lives of many in society, as it binds people to a contract, a proof of belonging, perhaps even ‘ownership.’ Hidden away as a treasure in safekeeping, its value increases with time, often becoming an heirloom.
This region (South Asia) has seen many civilisations come and go, been colonised for centuries and enriched by diverse cultures, all of them left an incredible mark of their existence. I draw from the richness of this melting pot as inspiration for my designs, transforming the value of the affidavit into attire as the beautifully patterned paper comes forth from the shadows of safekeeping into full view.”
Organza, 48 cm (H). Anant Art Gallery.
Medallion is made from repurposed affidavit papers that depict national emblems such as the crescent and the star, with other repetitive motifs. Among other rights, the affidavit paper gives men the ownership over assets such as land and historically excludes women from excercising this role in the society.
The juxtaposition of motifs from the affidavit paper with the dress also expresses how South Asian societies have perceived women as ‘property.'
"The manufacturing of the affidavit stamp uses the same process I employ while etching a metal plate. As a printmaker, I find the search for the best method of image transference to always be a challenge, yet a welcome one.
The miniature dresses appear to be carved from paper yet are actually fabric, constructed by using the patterns from the stamp, which are strengthened by doubling or repeating them, positioned strategically. Photo transferring every module and stitching the pieces together provides the most satisfaction.
The dresses are highly embellished and appear grand, leaving very little negative space. They reflect order and harmony, and hint at infinity. One could imagine the pattern continuing forever, beyond the boundaries of the frame.
The patterns are very intricate, creating complex arrangements through adjoining modules. Taking numerous hours stitching one module repeatedly is a laborious challenge that enhances the delicacy of the works."
Organza and boning, 44 cm (H). Anant Art Gallery.
This dress is made with the barcodes of an affidavit paper and gives viewers an unsettling sense of rampant consumerism.
In repurposing such everyday materiality, Bushra contends with the influence of capitalistic practices in perceiving identity as a commodified and disposable condition.
A Weed That Became Geranium, 2021.
Charmeuse silk, silk and boning, 44 cm (H). Anant Art Gallery.
In indigenous communities of South Asia, the geranium flower represented happiness, an enduring friendship, and good health. However, with Victorian era’s introduction of floriography (the language of flowers), the symbolic meaning of the geranium flower came to be characterised by envy, deceit, and foolishness.
A Weed That Became Geranium is a metaphor of how imperial ideologies convoluted indigenous cultures.
The Leftover Gambeson, 2021.
Silk, Charmeuse Silk and Organza, 30 cm (H). Anant Art Gallery.
In The Leftover Gambeson, Bushra produces the European mediaeval armour, or the ‘gambeson,’ a padded jacket that warring settlements in the first world utilised during their expeditions.
The design is created with leftover pieces and discarded wastes from the other dresses. Maybe this is Bushra’s way of representing the imperial state and its failed attempts at homogenising a multicultural region, and instead creating a discombobulated state for eras to come.
About Mysticeti’s friends:
Shankar is a writer and curator based in New Delhi. A graduate of art history from Jamia Millia Islamia, his writings have been featured in spaces like The Punch Magazine, Live Wire, DeCenter Magazine, Indica Today, among others. He was one of the recipients of the Second Young Writers Award in Lens Based Practices (2022), given by Critical Collective and MuthryNAYAK Foundation. He is currently involved with Anant Art Gallery, working on several research-based and curatorial projects.
Bushra Waqas Khan is a printmaker based in Lahore. She graduated from the National College of Arts with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. She has taught drawing at the Institute of Fashion and Design from 2012-14, and was visiting faculty for printmaking and drawing at the Multan College of Arts, Bahauddin Zikriya University from 2010-11. She was shortlisted for the Victoria and Albert Museum, Jameel Prize and recently won the ADA award in Fashion Design. Her solo show, The Red Carpet, was held at Khaas Contemporary in 2021. Her other participations include Wearable Variable, Canvas Gallery (2020); Microcosm 3, AAN Gandhara-Art Space (2019); Box Print, Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery (2018); and Box Print, AAN Gandhara-Art Space (2017).