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Always in the right

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Arjun Saluja, Haq:

Arjun Saluja moved back to India after spending 10 years in the city of New York, where his label Rishta was conceived. His first runway show in the country in 2003 defied convention at a time when few designers dared to break the norm. Before the Indian fashion industry woke up and realised the importance of blurring boundaries, he voiced it with his radical silhouettes and bold designs. He breathed essence into androgyny in his own powerful way—a signature that is still intact after 13 years, as he sticks to his vision of experimenting with structure and form to create gender-bending fashion that is creating ripples.

His live art installation at Lakme Fashion Week, titled Haq, threw light on nocturnal souls who struggle to discover, to dismantle and indulge. It was an ode to freedom, to wanderers, which came alive through models freeing themselves from ropes, sketchwork and bold makeup. His inspirations originate from thoughtful conversations, his journeys and his relationships. 

‘The first step to freedom is truly opening your mind and freeing yourself from within before you free yourself from the usual societal norms. People lose their rights as they consciously let them be taken away from them.’ Rather than evoking a certain emotion, Haq stands for observation and perseverance. ‘The road and the streets become an integral part of our daily lives. I travel to work from home every day and I see these kids on the street who beg for their right to live,’ says the designer. To his trained eye, these people seem to camouflage in their background; their voices exist but go unnoticed and unheard. 

He further explains, ‘Haq narrates the stories of the people you see on the streets. A transgender who is looked down upon by society and is forced to beg or get into prostitution—we forget that the gender does not have a lot to do with an individual’s expression. A man sitting under a tree reading a newspaper, exercising his right to knowledge, to education. We are more comfortable seeing what is considered as grotesque on the screen but when it’s in front of our eyes, we tend to look the other way.’

He stresses upon the insensitive nature of our routine. ‘We are in an age where we have allowed ourselves to be more familiar with a keypad’s touch rather than human touch. Our prime time is taken over by television shows, whereas the streets have their own prime time.’ The wanderers are disconnected from our concrete jungle, the internet, and they possess nothing. To defy fear is their Haq, he reiterates. 

‘People related to the installation in their own personal way. It shaped Haq in a way that it became an ongoing conversation.’ The installation resulted in a powerful collective—the paintings, set design and audio visual inputs, put together with aging techniques in Indian textiles to wear a distressed look. The deconstruction of classic Indian shapes to reconstruct new structure and form accentuated the designer’s signature style. 

Text Lavanya Grover

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