Priya Ahluwalia Works Vintage Textiles Into Costumes for Installation by Shezad Dawood
LONDON — Textiles are taking center stage in a new, multidisciplinary exhibition by the British-Pakistani artist Shezad Dawood which runs from Thursday until Aug. 13 at Wiels, the contemporary art space in Brussels.
Dawood is working with the British designer Priya Ahluwalia, who has designed costumes for the new exhibition, which is called “Night in the Garden of Love, Inspired by and Featuring Yusef Lateef.”
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It brings together virtual reality, live dance, painting on textiles, multiscreen video and costumes that double as sculptures.
For the show, Ahluwalia plundered Dawood’s textile archive, which is brimming with Romanian gypsy skirts, Japanese denim and a raft of colored, patterned ‘70s-era fabric from Dawood’s home province of Sindh, Pakistan, a major crossroads for textile buyers from Africa, Japan and the Indian subcontinent.
Her mission was to dress the main character, known as The Mutant, who is part-plant, part-human.
In an interview alongside Ahluwalia, Dawood said his family has been textile merchants for 10 generations, and fabrics from around the world have long formed the foundation of his work.
The two had already worked together on a project for Frieze London a few years ago, and bonded over their love of textiles.
“I have this whole textile cupboard that doesn’t look that different from my grandfather’s shop in Bombay back in the day,” said Dawood. “It is overflowing with material. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad day, or I’m a bit stuck for inspiration, I just get in the cupboard.”
Ahluwalia had even more fabrics to work with by the time the Wiels project rolled around. Not only had Dawood added to his magical cupboard, he had created textile art for the show, which gave Ahluwalia further food for thought.
“I was able to look at Shezad’s painted collages and respond to them. For me, it was about looking at those painted shapes and the panels he created, and reflecting them in the costumes for this otherworldly mutant character,” said Ahluwalia, adding that she also designed for the live dancer’s movement and flexibility.
The show has been imagined as a conversation between Dawood and the late jazz musician Yusef Lateef. It is inspired by Lateef’s 1988 sci-fi novella “Night in the Garden of Love,” which looks at human evolution amid ecological concerns and dystopian structures, while expressing “the joyful possibilities of music, dance and higher-consciousness,” according to the artist.
The dancer Wan-Lun Yu will perform as The Mutant character on certain days of the exhibition. Her costumes will be mounted in the exhibition as sculptural works when not worn during performances.
It’s not just textiles in the spotlight.
Dawood also created a new scent called Xyloflor. He worked with Olivia Bransbourg of the boutique perfume label Iconofly, the Paris-based perfumer Nicolas Bonneville and the fragrance house Firmenich. The fragrance smells of jasmine and brugmansia, and has various plant notes from the Garden’s collectively imagined ecosystem.
At the exhibition, the scent will be presented in a large ceramic vase using bamboo reeds for capillary diffusion. A limited series of artist-signed soliflor and scent will be for sale at the show.
Dawood is best known for his 10-part film cycle “Leviathan,” which debuted at the Venice Biennale in 2017. He is also the latest artist to be commissioned for London’s St. Pancras International’s public art program. That installation is called “HMS Alice Liddell,” and it’s suspended mid-air in The Circle area of the station.
He recently mounted an exhibition at Frieze London 2022.
Ahluwalia is well-known for her efforts in sustainability, and is accustomed to working with deadstock and vintage fabrics.
Last year her brand became the first to take part in &PaulSmith, a program supported by the Paul Smith Foundation that looks to work with, mentor and provide monetary grants to innovative creators across a variety of sectors.
She collaborated with Smith and his team on an 11-piece, limited-edition capsule collection that saw her combine Smith’s leftover check fabrics and other materials with her signature seaming and paneling techniques for a collage-like effect.
The colorful palette was drawn from Ahluwalia’s personal archive of photographs taken in Nigeria and India. Ahluwalia was born and raised in London, and has Nigerian-Indian origins.
At the 2020 British Fashion Awards she won an accolade for her sustainable fashions and her contributions to diversity and support of the local community.
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