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Op-Ed

Poverty Of Imaginations: Naga Designers Toying with Cultural Attires

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By EMN Updated: Mar 25, 2014 10:46 pm
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Dr. Shimreiwung Zimik

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e have lauded our young Naga designers who have received recognition in the national and international fashion shows. It can be considered as a great tribute to Naga culture on their part to have showcased the colorful and distinctive Naga cultural attires in the international forum, which have been highly appreciated in the world of fashion industry. Naga designers, including all the expatriate Nagas who have made successful careers by sweating out in other parts of the country and abroad, are increasing every year. Their feat of success in varied arenas and professional fields have definitely indicated that Nagas are richly talented and given the proper opportunity and support they have the potential to excel in any field. Their success shows that Nagas are no lesser than any community in terms of human resources needed for the progress of their society, thus shedding the image of popularly held ‘warrior race’ tag, and also giving new light to what Nagas can do. Such individual successes also highlights that Nagas have not been able to tap the human resources to full extent, and that we have remained unaware of our ability to grow and developed with the rest of the world.There is actually a flip side to this story of progress, which we have seen in recent times. A cultural faux pas has been time and again committed by Naga designers, irreverent of our traditional values and rich cultural heritage. The latest culprit is popular Naga designer Atsu Sekose, but lesser known designers like Asa Kazingmei and others, have also made the similar mistakes in their own trademark fashion designs. It is by all means a great contribution on their part that they have showcase Naga attires in highly competitive fashion shows and they have drew their inspirations from Naga cultural motifs being designed by our ancestors in ancient times. But, it is altogether another case of committing fraud that the young designers are using the same pattern of designs being enshrined in our traditional attire, which has varied cultural symbols and meaning attached to it. Cultural attires and symbols are meaningful not only in patterns and colors themselves, but have significant social relevance which is still in practice today. Apart from the general categorization of shawls for male and female, there are certain dresses specifically designed for persons who hold important position in the kinship structures and customarily worn only by them. These values are all part of our lay knowledge, which does not need specialized knowledge, but being disrespectful to these practices shows one’s own attitude towards the community.
It cannot be an excuse on the part of Naga designers that they are unaware of the social and cultural significance of Naga attires. In the first place, they belong to the same community; therefore, they are an ‘insider’. And, they should have done proper research about the historical and cultural context when they use the exact patterns and designs of Naga shawls and meklas. By using the same dress patterns that are worn by respectable individuals in our society during special occasions, and turning that into skirts and tops in fashion shows, the Naga designers have made mockery of our cultural tradition. By all means a shawl has been always worn as a shawl, and turning that into something like skirt or even mekla, is not just a case of cultural faux pas, but also inversion of common social practices. A common fashion statement among the Naga youths today is wearing the waist-coats with Naga cultural motifs, however even in this case minimal imitation of actual traditional attire has been adopted. And, as a general rule, we have hardly come across symbolic motifs being used in female sarongs being applied in male waist coats.
Designing, like any other creative and artistic professions, is fundamentally driven by imaginations and creation of something that is extra-ordinary. An exact imitation of what has been made by someone long ago is not the best way of showcasing one’s creative abilities. In the world of creative industry, especially fashion and scientific inventions, copyrights are serious matters, where even one’s earnings are dependent on it. Like all forms of folk art, Naga cultural attires are owned by the community, and no individual can claim rights over it, especially the properties inherent in the designs and artistic values. When Naga designers or for that matter any designer who used the exact patterns of Naga traditional attires to showcase it as their own creation, they are in principle owning the designs and patterns as their own in strict legal sense, which is again a strong infringement upon communities rights over their common cultural property. This argument may seem far fetch to some individuals, but such legal issues are common problems in the contemporary world of intellectual property rights and patents.
It is a common practice among artists to get inspiration from varied source. And, tribal culture of far and distant land has been often used by European artist for their own creation. However, in numerous cases, they have just used the shades of the colors, or certain aesthetic sense, and generally not reproduce the entire patterns and motifs in their own creation. This has much to do with ethical concerns in one’s professional practices and imaginative capabilities. Some well-known artist like Matisee has also got inspiration from Tahitian cultural practices, but we just see the shadow of Tahitian art and not the exact reproduction of the original piece in his art. Matisee may be an exception, but that’s what great artist does in their line of work. Naga cultural attires continues to be used by numerous artist as an inspiration, but it will really good if the artist can would show some respect to the cultural tradition, but also know that culturally motifs and patterns have already been owned by the community, and it should not be turned into one’s own property and meddle with the designs that have been created centuries back by our ancestors.
It is high time for Naga civil organizations, especially Naga Hoho, to look into the misuse of Naga arts and artifacts by certain individuals (whether Naga or non-Naga) for their vested interest and take certain measures, so that our cultural practices are respected by everyone. The liberal economy can do much harm to our culture and identity if we allow ourselves to be liberal in every aspect of our social and cultural practices. Time has come for the community like Nagas to be more critical in one’s own approach and not live ignorantly like the era that has gone by.

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By EMN Updated: Mar 25, 2014 10:46:08 pm