Traditional Attires from around the World by Kankana Debnath


Traditional Attires from around the World by Kankana Debnath

For #SaturdayArt today, we feature Kankana Debnath, 31, a doctoral scholar from the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, JNU. An aspiring climate change policy analyst, she practices art (watercolor painting, pencil sketch) as a hobby. Her current series on Traditional Attires from countries around the World piqued our interest, where she focuses on the origin, patterns, and fashion techniques of each attire along with accessory detailing and their symbolic connotation.

Artwork 7: The Japanese Kimono

Lady wearing the trditional Japanese Kimono

The Japanese kimono is one of the world’s instantly recognizable traditional garments. It’s a flat, T-shaped garment with square sleeves and a rectangular body. The word kimono literally means “clothing”, and up until the mid 19th century it was the form of dress worn by everyone in Japan. That began to change slowly with the import of suits, dresses and other western fashions during the Meiji Era. 

There are different types of kimono for different occasions and seasons, including those worn by men. Other than those worn daily by some older people or performers of traditional arts, kimonos are a much less common sight these days but are still widely worn on special occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. The attire consists of the tabi (white cotton socks), the undergarments which are a top, and a wraparound skirt.

Then the nagajuban, an under-kimono which is tied with a datemaki belt and finally the kimono, with the left side over the right (right over left is only used when dressing a corpse for burial) and tied with the obi. About an inch of the haneri (collar) of the nagajuban shows inside the collar of the kimono. The loose design of the collar is to give a glimpse of the neck, considered the most sensual part of the kimono-wearing lady. 

When outside, zori sandals are usually worn. Hairstyles and ornamentation are mostly concentrated on the head as a true Japanese tradition. Known as Kanzashi, it refers to a wide variety of accessories, including long, rigid hairpins, barrettes, fabric flowers and fabric hair ties. The kimono can be made from fabrics both in silk and cotton with various patterns printed on it. Just like the Korean Hanbok Japanese Kimono underwent massive metamorphosis since the later Heian period.

Posted on 12th September 2020

Artwork 6: Lady in a Traditional Maasai Attire – the Shuka

Lady waering the traditional attire of the Maasai – the Shuka

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best known local populations internationally due to their distinctive customs and dress. The Maasai are famous and easily recognizable thanks to their traditional robe, the Shuka. It is a bright-colored cloth, predominantly red, wrapped around their lean and slender frames; red symbolizes Maasai culture and it is the colour, believed by these people, that can scare off lions even from a great distance. Maasai jewellery, created with beads and metal wire, is just as famous. Women feature an explosion of colour and jewellery: they wear tons of bracelets and big flat bead-decorated collars in various patterns and colours, that represent the clan they belong to and their social status.

However, they have not always dressed this way, in the past their customs were different. In the past, Maasai clothes were obtained from animal hide, that were dyed using vegetable pigments, while jewellery was made of seeds and stones easily found in the surrounding environment. But when the first colonizers arrived, the Maasai started replacing calf or sheep hide with wool or cotton; it is thought that fabrics with checkered or striped patterns were inspired by the blankets English and Scottish soldiers used.

A Maasai clothing style and its colours vary depending on age and social position. The Maasai also have a long tradition of designing and making the ornaments and jewellery they wear daily. Before coming into contact with Europeans, the materials used were derived from local raw materials, like white beads created with clay or shells, ivory or bone, blue and black beads were made of iron, coal, seeds or horn and red decorations were a product of seeds, woods, pumpkins, copper or brass. After the arrival of the colonizers, all of these natural materials were replaced with glass beads, brought there from Europe, more colourful and with a smoother and brighter appearance; these new materials made it possible for more elaborated decorations to be created. In the past, warriors used to wear ivory bands on their upper arms; for the elephants’ sake, they now use simple wooden bracelets. Jewellery plays an important role in the courting rituals and both men and women spend a lot of time taking care of their looks.

Up until not too long ago, the Maasai used to wear sandals made from bovine hide, but today these materials have left room for old pneumatic tyres and plastic strips.

The different colours of Maasai garments and jewellery are important because they reflect several aspects of their culture:
Blue is the color of the sky providing water in the form of rain, which is fundamental for the cattle.
White is the purity of milk, a staple food and source of energy.
Red is the most important colour to the Maasai, it represents blood and a sort of protection against wild animals, it also stands for courage, strength, and the unity within the Masai nation.
Green means the land providing food and nourishment, in the form of plants and vegetables, for the cattle.
Yellow represents the sun, making life possible.
And, orange means hospitality, friendship and generosity.

Posted: 5th September 2020

Artwork 5: Lady in a traditional Mongolian tribal attire

The Buryat attire – It is a traditional Mongolian tribal attire which reflects a greater Central Asian and Siberian tradition of ethnic costume during the ancient and medieval days. Usually Mongolian dress consists of a long robe, known as a deel, which is worn over trousers. The Buryat word for this robe is digil, which is the ancient Mongolian word for this item of clothing. The digil is perfectly adapted to the Siberian and Mongolian climates, which have below freezing temperatures except during the summer. It is also well adapted for riding horses, which is the reason why it was traditionally worn with trousers by both sexes.

This portrait features a woman wearing the summer costume. Women wear a vest over their digil, which is an ankle length silk robes fastened with a belt on the waist. Mongolian clothing and personal adornments are rather complicated and colorful. They vary in forms and materials according to different regions, ages, status of marriage, and distinguish between splendid attire and common costume. In general, Mongolian dresses and personal adornments mainly include: ornaments, robes, belts and boots.

Mongolians are fond of bright colors. The robes are often bright coloured and have a silky sheen and are trimmed with a bright colour of contrasting shades and colourful edging. Women of high class, as seen in the portrait, wear an elaborate headdress which resembles a hat and sculpt the hair in braid-like designs with hardened mutton fat and tie their hair with jewelry pieces made of gold, silver, turquoise and coral. A family’s wealth was often measured by precious stones and metals in a woman’s hair. The shoes were mostly boots in adaptation with the freezing temperatures of the region.

Artwork 4: Portrait of a noble Egyptian woman wearing Kalashiris

Artwork 4: Portrait of a noble Egyptian woman wearing the traditional Kalashiris

This portrait depicts the fashion attire of a noble Egyptian woman during the New Kingdom era (16th to 11th century B.C). The dress here is popularly known as Kalashiris. Women’s fashion from this period was more elaborate than in any of the previous era. 

Kalashiris are sheer gowns of light linen which were in favor among the upper-class women, often ornamented with a sash or cape, belted at the waist, and accented by a headpiece, necklace, and earrings.

Men and women of Egypt often shaved their heads to prevent lice and to cut down on the time it would take to maintain a full head of hair. Wigs were used by both sexes to protect the scalp and for ceremonial purposes. The wigs of the New Kingdom are the most ornate, especially for women, and show pleated, fringed, and layered hair styles with a length to the shoulders or below as shown in the portrait.

Perfume and jewelry were appreciated and worn by both men and women, as were cosmetics. Egyptians of both sexes used kohl under their eyes to decrease sun glare. Kyphi, the most popular Egyptian perfume, was regarded so highly it was burned as incense in the temples as well. The most popular form of jewelry among the upper classes was gold-based.

Posted on 17th August 2020

Artwork 3: Portrait of a Santhal woman

Artwork 3: Portrait of a Santhal woman wearing traditional attire

Marking International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, here is artwork 3 in the series – Portrait of a Santhal woman. The painting illustrates the lifestyle and culture of the Santhal tribe in India.

The Santhal tribes are the oldest tribes in India whose origin lies in the Pre Aryan times. The Santhal tribes are found in few regions of eastern India spreading along the states of West Bengal, Assam, Orissa and Jharkhand. Santhals belong to the Austro Asiatic family and they speak Santhali and Mundali language. The ethnic tribes are unique as they are gradually reducing in population. They have their distinct culture and lifestyle which they strictly maintain and they are one of the largest and ancient tribes belonging to India.

The santhals have their own clothings and distinctive draping styles. Women nowadays wear saree, petticoat and blouse and other modern clothes available. But in the past they used to wear a two piece cloth called palhand (on bottom) and panchi (top). It was being used without petticoat and blouse. Though there was difference in the length of the materials according to the requirements. The palhand was 3ft in width to cover the knee and length of 5ft. The panchi was of 4ft long and 2 ½ ft wide.The palhand was wrapped on the waist tightly and folded from one side of the waist to another in the front with the excess length. The panchhi was tucked on the waist inside the bottom wear in the front then moved around back and put on the left shoulder. The extra fabric was again pulled to the front and tucked on the left side waist. The attire was completed with ornaments. They have different ornaments for each body parts. Hasa Mala for neck, Itil Paini for ankle, Melhed Sakam for hand, Pan Kanta for hair bun, Shikha for above the ear on the hair, Pagra for ear, Phuli for nose, Puisa Mala for neck, Baju for arm, Bala Sakam for hand, Mudam for ring, Danda Jhinjhri for waist, Khadu anklet with solid structure) & Paini (anklet without ghungroos) and pajap (anklet with ghungroos on it).

Artwork 1: The Korean Hanbok

Artwork 1: Portrait of a Korean woman wearing the Hanbok

The portrait depicts a noble Korean woman wearing the Hanbok – the traditional clothing worn by women of the Korean peninsula – tracing its origin back to the reign of Three Kingdoms (57-668 BC) when Baekji, Goreyo and Silla ruled the peninsula. 

The word “hanbok” itself actually means “Korean clothing”. It consists of 2 main pieces. On the upper body, both men and women wear an upper garment called “jeogori”. Women’s jeogori is fastened by a string called “goreum”. For the bottom, women wear a long skirt called “chima” and men wear baggy pants called “baji”. The outfit is complemented by silk shoes called “kkotsin”. 

During the reign of all the above three kingdoms the attire underwent several modifications adjusting to the taste of the contemporary fashion trends and tastes. The hanbok was worn extensively by women of all status with the difference in materials used. Noble women wore hanboks made of fine silk and those of lower status wore cotton ones.

Present day Korean women wear hanboks during traditional occasions only. Korean film ‘ The Royal Tailor’ (2014) depicts the change in the hanbok style during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897).

Artwork 2: The Native American Pow Wow Attire

Artwork 2: Portrait of a Native American woman wearing the Pow Wow

This style of dress has many different looks. Many of the Eastern & Southeastern tribes wear long full cotton dresses, or skirts worn with cape-like blouses. This portrait features a form of applique on the shawl called “ribbon-work”. This term refers to wide bands of applique that were originally created by using brightly-colored wide silk ribbons, layered on top of each other, with designs cut out of the topmost layers. Many of the Plains and Plateau tribes wear T-dresses, an “Indian” version of a one-piece A-line dress with large open sleeves, which may have intricate designs sewn or beaded onto them. Southwestern tribes such as the Navaho are often distinguished by an abundance of turquoise and silver jewellery.

Here’s what Kankana has to say about her love for art:

“It’s a kind of soul food for me. I have been painting since I was six and received training for it till a decade before college happened and my artwork took a backseat. I resumed my passion by starting to paint again in the past year and have been continuing ever since. I try creating and re-creating art from roughly all genres. At present, I took upon working on creating artwork on traditional attires of different countries.”

Follow Kankana’s work on this series and more, here:

First Posted on: 8th August 2020

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