Azaadi by Misha Japanwala

23.08.2018 | Art , Blog , Fashion | BY:

Pakistani designer and visual artist Misha Japanwala recently presented an uplifting collection entitled ‘azaadi’ — an Urdu word which means freedom — as her official debut as a New York based designer.

The Parsons School of Design graduate returned/revisited her hometown for inspiration where she sought to focus on a more positive narrative from the headlines she often read as a child about murders and brutal acts of violence against women.

“My collection was inspired by women like late Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch and other victims of honour killings who were murdered by family members that believed they had brought dishonour upon the family because of actions or decisions the victims may have made.

Japanwala used her platform as a designer to create a series of wearable sculptures of the female body moulded from her own body along with accessories from the hands of other Pakistani women.

“The female body was the perfect symbol to highlight the strength of the women who aren’t afraid to fight to live on their own terms, but also representative of the fragility that comes with being a woman in Pakistan.” Twin spoke with the designer about her process and inspirations behind this meaningful collection.

Azaadi by Misha Japanwala

How long did it take you to compose this entire collection and what were some of your challenges?

I worked on this collection for almost a year. I spent the first couple months deep in research about honour killings and reflecting upon experiences of Pakistani women from different backgrounds, including my own. The process of designing the looks in the collection was the most challenging aspect for me, because it took a long time to settle upon visual anchors that represent struggle, strength, and what it means to be a woman living in Pakistan. A few months in, I had a dream where all of the final looks in the collection were created using sculptures of the female body, and that’s when the process of experimenting with casting and different materials began. I had never sculpted or life-casted before, so the process of trying to figure it all out included a lot of trial and error and experimentation, which was a lot of fun for me as an artist.

Photography by Alec Lesser and Teagan West

How has the general feedback been since you’ve launched?

The reaction I’ve received from people, both during the process of creating my thesis as well as after completing it, has been really special. As an artist, the best I can hope for with any work I create is to make people feel something, and it’s been amazing to watch so many of them, especially Pakistani women, connect with the themes explored in this collection. However, I also knew that by highlighting taboo and controversial subjects, and by being an outspoken Pakistani women, I would face some amount of backlash. It has been important for me to expose myself to the negative opinions about my work, because I think it is always necessary to have an open dialogue, especially when it’s conversations surrounding honour killings, domestic violence and the societal pressures faced by women living in Pakistan. 

Photography by Alec Lesser and Teagan West

How did it feel to show your muses the finished products?

After completing the collection, I went back to Pakistan for a couple weeks and had the opportunity to show my work to some of the women that had inspired it, and the ones who allowed me to make moulds of their hands to create the accessories in my collection. It was really special to see them excited about the collection and wearing the accessories themselves. It resulted in us having an impromptu photoshoot and it’s one of my favourite moments associated with the collection. 

Image courtesy of Misha Japanwala

Where can one find these pieces to view/buy?

My collection can be viewed online – official photos of the lookbook are up on my website www.mishajapanwala.com, and I continue to share photos and images of my process on my instagram @misha_japanwala. Anyone interested in buying my work can contact me directly through those channels.

Photography by Alec Lesser and Teagan West

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on launching an online store in the next few weeks to sell accessories inspired by the themes I targeted in the collection. I want to use my platform and my art to help Pakistani women, and so a portion of all proceeds from the sales on my website will be donated to a women’s shelter in Karachi, Pakistan. Moving forward, my work will continue to explore the subjects I used with my first collection, because I still feel like there is so much to say. In Pakistan, now more than ever, it is so important to continue pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo, and I hope that my work can, in a small way, help change mindsets and open people to different perspectives. 

Image Courtesy of Misha Japanwala

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