When Vijaya, Maria and Sarojamma used fashion as a form of expression to communicate their truths and turmoil, the Milan Fashion Week 2022 came alive with their feat. The three survivors of acid attacks played a crucial role at the Ara Lumiere presentation spearheaded by the dynamic philanthropist Kulsum Shadab Wahab.
Following the creative presentation on the fashion week platform, label Ara Lumiere also went on to win the Social Impact Award at CNMI Sustainable Fashion Award at Milan Fashion Week 2022. In conversation with News18, Kulsum Shadad Wahab spoke about working with survivors of acid attacks and how the experience and winning the award made the journey towards empowerment heard and rejoiced.
Tell us how does it feel being conferred with the prestigious award and what makes the experience at Milan Fashion Week 2022 special?
It is mesmerising when thinking about standing on such an immensely important platform that staged awards for fashion legends such as Gucci and Prada right before Ara Lumiere was announced a winner of The Social Impact Award at CNMI Sustainable Fashion Award” at Milan Fashion Week 2022. The highly prestigious award has truly made our journey towards empowerment heard and rejoiced.
Take us through the show and the thought behind the collection presented at Milan Fashion Week 2022.
The presentation itself represented the true identity of Ara Lumiere, the survivors Vijaya, Maria and Sarojamma and their artwork alone. Ara Lumiere was built by them and many more women survivors back in India piece by piece, which explains the concept of constructing a frame of artwork done live by the survivors themselves. The true essence of Ara Lumiere lies in their ability and talent, showcasing it was just our duty to create a stand for them and their stories. While being backed by the most supportive team of Camera nazionale della moda Italiana [National Chamber of Italian Fashion], who have been immensely supportive and nurturing towards us and the story we present.
The collection The Unbound in a way paid homage to the creative self-expressionism even with the presence of turmoil and trauma that has changed the survivors’ responses and conduct towards the world. The presentation basically dove deep into the identity of the women who survives such traumas, which was showcased in the form of a live painting at the presentation.
Do you feel fashion can communicate and make an impact in society?
We at Art Lumiere use fashion as a form of expression. To communicate the truths and turmoil faced by our survivors and women worldwide. This was a vision that started with various workshops conducted for the acid attack survivors initially under Hothur Foundation, including mainly art and crafts therapy, involving stories of acid attack and domestic violence survivors through artwork, jewellery making, pottery and stitching of hand-crafted apparel and couture.
It generated a spark establishing what is now known as Ara Lumiere. “Victory over Violence” sacredly repeated, With all the proceeds and progress going back to help building a foundation for the survivors to thrive and make a livelihood. Ara Lumiere became a sanctuary for creativity, where we grew and learned together.
The survivors of acid attacks are the heart of the project, was it challenging to take it and show it to the world on a big platform like Milan Fashion Week?
Ara Lumiere transforms what one may consider disfigurements of the body and soul, into power that lies within the multi-dimensional layers of a being. It was all set to tell the untold stories of acid attack, burn and domestic violence survivors to the forefront through the seams of handcrafted couture.
It embodies the transcends of healing and transformation as we journey with the survivors as they take back their control of a narrative imprinted by their surroundings. Which is already an extremely sensitive subject to cover and voice. There have been countless challenges especially promoting skin banking that helps in the long-term process of reconstructive surgery that the survivors go through. Along with the battle against acid attacks has been difficult to overcome and overtake.
An acid attack is awful, it is a violent assault, usually a gender-based assault against women. It’s still so unfortunate that around 00-700 reported incidents every year, while the actual number could exceed 2000 victims per year in India alone. Survivors of acid attacks need a minimum of 22 to a maximum of 60+ surgeries. Along with safe spaces that empower them. This presentation gave out a sense of community that we have built together at Ara Lumiere.
Like the saying Art is where the Heart is, when did you know this was your calling?
It was a few years ago when I was working closely with the survivors of acid attacks while spearheading the Hothur Foundation. As each untold story of physical and psychological trauma unfolded, I obsessively looked into solutions on how to fix this terrible issue in the society
It’s the survivors that resonated so deep within my heart, that it was a clear gut feeling that brought in a clear pathway towards a journey to showcase these forgotten stories of the survivors into the forefront, as they set their progression towards nourishment and healing that helps the survivors establish themselves back into society. This was my calling, what I didn’t expect was the level of support and love we’ve received. The collections and concepts stand as a personal expression of ideas and beliefs that are engraved through the seams of Ara Lumiere. Ara Lumiere is the survivors’ platform; it is their story.
These women are the heart of the entire project fuelled by the devotion for fashion—a flow of art that speaks of resilience and strength.
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What memories have you taken back with you from the Milan Fashion Week showcase?
Firstly, it would be the devoted care and support from CNMI and its whole team. It wouldn’t have been possible without their stand for representation and empowerment. Following that it is truly the moment that I felt that our voice, these untold stories, and experiences were being heard and shared, bringing in supporters that stood by us to witness the art of expression and resilience that once resonated within me.
Being seen especially regarding the institutions that Ara Lumiere stands by was already rewarding. But standing on that stage, showcasing what we at Ara Lumiere believe, hand in hand with the survivors is a core memory that I will cherish for a lifetime.