The Almirah Project: A cupboard as a metaphor for pandemic-era emotions
Sharmila Nair, 29, from Kochi, Kerala, decided to channel her pandemic-era feelings — bewilderment, anxiety, fear, boredom, restlessness, anger — through what she knows best, the garments she collects, curates and sells on her online sari boutique.
So, on October14, she unveiled a fashion-art installation called Project Almirah, on Instagram and Facebook. The video work shows a sari-clad woman trapped in a large wooden cupboard (almirah, in Hindi), experiencing a range of emotions in an endless loop, from sadness and thoughtfulness to joy, despair, sensuousness.
“Initially, there was some joy — I started to do things I hadn’t done in a long time, like baking. After a month, I was still thinking, like many of us were, that this would be over soon. After three months I started feeling trapped,” Nair says.
With her husband stuck in Chennai, she and her six-year-old son began to feel longing. Nair’s grandmother became despondent because she was shut in, and her temple was closed.
“A friend’s mother became seriously depressed and had to seek medical help,” Nair says. On the flip side, two of her friends, a married couple, began to spend so much more time together because they were now working from home. That was happiness.
“It was this wide-ranging emotional experience that I wanted to highlight through the installation.”
At her boutique, Nair has an antique wooden cupboard she inherited from her grandmother. “Looking at them, I felt like the saris were also trapped, like all of us around the world. That’s when the idea came to me,” she says.
Nair collaborated with Bharatanatyam dancer Ramya Suvi and filmmaker-cinematographer Ratheesh Ravindran to create the installation, which combines elements of art, fashion, photography and performance.
The installation uses handloom saris made by local artisans. “Suvi also represented all the artists who have also lost their stage and their space to showcase their art and earn a living,” Nair says.
The experience was very cathartic, Suvi says. “It was like a stage performance. Putting those emotions out there was a real energy booster. I had the time, space and freedom to improvise. I was in a happy place,” the dancer says.
The performance was shot over two days. Nair is now looking to take the installation to a gallery space. “I have a plan for an Almirah campaign where I can install this almirah wherever it can help people in need – stocked with books and stationery for children in need. I don’t want this project to burn out on social media,” she says.