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Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour

29 April 2024

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour

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INTRODUCTION 

In 2008, there was an OISTAT meeting in Sweden coming up and Kate Burnett, who led SBTD for many years alongside Peter Ruthven Hall, couldn’t go. She asked me if I would like to go as our representative instead. I was a freelance designer with a bit of potential sessional teaching on the horizon at that point so the little bit of financial support that SBTD offered to help me get there was vital (the rest went on my credit card).

For the first few days I was completely terrified and intimidated by all these incredibly impressive, experienced people in weird meetings about past events I didn’t quite understand on board a ship in Stockholm harbour. However, at a pivotal point the then heads of the Performance Design and Architecture Commissions proposed to us that instead of more meetings the next day, we could take part in a workshop which they would facilitate, provocatively called something like

 ‘Why do theatre architects design theatre buildings that theatre designers can’t work in?’

That workshop was the most significant moment for me both in terms of how I saw my own career and the democratic nature of the organisation. We talked, drew and made paper models. The person who made the most lasting impression on me with his thoughtful response was a man called Nissar Allana, a director/designer who, at the time, was running the Ibsen Festival in India. He spoke passionately about building performance spaces according to the needs of the sector specific to our countries rather than what often seemed like a ‘one size fits all’ approach of architectural aggrandizing via a solely Western lens. He spoke about the possibility of a series of modular spaces of different scales into which artists and companies could grow and evolve which I found incredibly inspiring.

Without that workshop and his participation, I probably would not have shaped my career within organisational and project delivery in SBTD, PQ, World Stage Design and OISTAT itself in the way that I have or have stayed a part of the formal business of OISTAT.

THE PERFORMANCE DESIGN COMMISSION

At PQ 2023 Dinesh Yadav, Indian lighting designer and educator now based at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, USA, was elected as the new Chair of this commission, the umbrella for Costume, Space, Lighting and Sound Design Sub-Commissions.

Since becoming actively involved in OISTAT, Dinesh has expressed a desire to organise a meeting in India and it has also been a long-held ambition of the Costume Design Sub-Commission.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Man on boat on the Ganges

THE COSTUME DESIGN SUB-COMMISSION

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Marwa Auda, Costume designer, Egypt (wearing yellow) centre of the group

The Costume Design Sub-Commission was founded in 1995. It is admired throughout OISTAT for its collective and active approach, continually growing membership and collaborations with other OISTAT Commissions and working groups through joint meetings and active events. Over and above the participation in OISTAT Performance Design Commission meetings, the Costume Design Sub Commission, since 2004, organizes individual meetings every two years (in between PQ and World Stage Design regular meetings) in a different host country. The location for these in-person meetings is selected for costume related interests and opportunities for cultural exchanges with international and local designers, makers and craft artisans. One of the first meetings was held in Cuba in 2004 and several designers attending then were also on the trip to India.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Costume in Action film shoot, National School of Drama

Since then, the group has visited Antwerp, Manilla, Sibiu, Cardiff, Prague, Las Vegas, Sao Paulo, USA, Taipei, Madrid and Mexico. As a consequence, there is a palpable sense of family and longevity among this predominantly female group, whilst also welcoming new attendees. Many designers involved are also educators and can find some support to attend via their institutions or professional organisations in their own countries by making formal academic presentations while others need to self-fund. These events are now referred to as World Costume in Action (WCiA) meetings and include talks, workshops and artistic presentations. The opportunity to participate is open to all OISTAT members and membership of the group is constantly growing.

At PQ23, Dinesh extended an invitation for a WCiA meeting in India and eighteen OISTAT members signed up for the full two week experience.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Group image from Gandhi’s Ashram

OUR TRAVEL GROUP

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Eighty Ghats from the River Ganges

Our group ranged in age from 30 to 78, with the youngest joining for the first time and the oldest a founder member. We represented Russia, Egypt, Mexico, Brazil, Hungary, USA, Israel, UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland. As well as costume designers, some of whom were also experimenting with sound in their work, we were selected to participate as scenographers, a video artist and lighting designers.

To travel with such a strong, welcoming group of women with shared passions, interests and knowledge has been a real privilege.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
River Ganges boat trip

ITINERARY AND PURPOSE

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Welcome ceremony National Drama School, Delhi, Photo by Kathe De Vault
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
OISTAT welcome NDS Delhi
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Welcome ceremony at Banares Hindu University, Varanasi

In exchange for delivering talks and workshops at National School of Drama, Delhi and the Faculty of Visual Arts at Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi we were supported with accommodation and some meals.

In compliment to this we had the opportunity to study a range of artisan textile making processes, dating back as far as the 12th century, via visits to Jaipur (block printing) Patan (double ikat weaving) Gandhi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad (khadi cloth) and Varanasi (Banaras silk)

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Block Printing 1 Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Block Printing 2 Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Artisan Printers 5 Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Silk screen printing Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Silk Screen Printing Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Silk Screen Printing Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Double ikat weaving Patan
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Pattern scale measure double ikat weaving Patan FW
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Double Ikat weaving Patan
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Double Ikat weaving Patan
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Double Ikat cloth for purchase

and to visit iconic architectural sites such as Jantar Mantar Astronomical Museum, the Amber Fort, Sun Temple, Modhera, Rani Ki Vav Step Well Temple, Eighty Ghats on the Ganges, Sarnath and the Taj Mahal.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Jantar Astronomical Museum, Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Jantar Astronomical Museum, Jaipur
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Jantar Astronomical Museum, Jaipur

A VILLAGE WELCOME

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Walking welcome in Kankar Chhaja

En route to Jaipur, on New Year’s Day, we had the joy and privilege of visiting Kankar Chhaja, Dinesh’s family village in the middle of the countryside. The long table set out for us to eat together in the courtyard exemplifies what these OISTAT meetings are about – an opportunity to experience life, culture and our common disciplines guided by fellow practitioners who have grown up, lived and/or worked in the country we are visiting.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
New Year's Day celebration table with Sunil Jaglan in Kankar Chhaja
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
New Year's Day celebration Kankar Chhaja

Female menstruation is still a largely taboo topic of conversation in India and at the table it was moving and inspiring to meet Sunil Jaglan, Director of Selfie with Daughter Foundation (www.selfiewithdaughter.org) ,a father of young daughters setting out to change attitudes to women and to menstruation with his Period Chart Campaign accompanied  by Rashidha Katna, a 15 year old model keen to meet us and explain her ambassadorial role in the project.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Sunil Jalan from SelfieWith Daughter and Rosane Muniz, Chair of Costume Design Sub Commission with Period Chart campaign posters

NATIONAL SCHOOL OF DRAMA WORKSHOPS

Over the course of our final three working days we returned to NDS to deliver a series of workshops and a final sharing centred on a visual, design-led approach to developing characters, costume and atmosphere led by Kathe de Vault and Hilary Baxter (Lighting Designer, USA and Scenographer/Researcher UK), Carolina Jimenez, Edyta Rzewuska and Estela Fagoaga (Scenographer and costume designers, Mexico), Laura Crow, Sarah Mosher, Sandy Bonds, and Anat Mesner (Costume Designers, USA and Israel) and Rosane Muniz, Lise Klitten, Sabine Snijders, Fruzina Nagy, Ildyko Tihanyi and myself (Costume designers and scenographer Brazil, Denmark, the Netherlands, Hungary and the UK).

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Father and daughter participating in Found Materials Costume workshop NDS, Delhi
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Studen Literature student Raghubir Pal performing his costume and character
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
NSD Workshop sharing 2

For these sessions NSD reached out widely beyond the school via an open call application process (the first call of this kind they had been able to initiate since COVID), meaning that the cohort was a truly inspiring and eclectic mix of participants with backgrounds in business, commerce, literature, yoga, choreography and more, all with a thirst and curiosity to express themselves through costume and ideas about light.

It proved a wonderful opportunity to practically co-lead sessions, sharing approaches and methodologies as designers and educators with each other and our participants.

Requesting that our participants continued to develop their costumes and characters overnight to share in whatever way they chose the following morning, it was incredible to see the material manifestation of such creativity. It was particularly moving and humbling that some chose to truly inhabit their characters and costumes, performing in front of an audience for the very first time.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
NSD Workshop sharing
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
NSD Workshop sharing
Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Final sharing NSD Workshops, Delhi

WHAT DOES HOME MEAN TO YOU?

From the early stages of our planning for this trip online, the newest and youngest member of our group Katarzhina Zakharova, a video and installation artist from Moscow, had proposed making a piece of work with us around our sense of home. As a concluding, reflective moment towards the end of our trip it proved to be very poignant, when for the first time everyone was speaking in their first language in response to this question.

Most moving of all to witness was Dinesh Yadev, our colleague, friend and guide throughout the trip unconsciously shifting occasionally from Hindi to English, sometimes within the same sentence.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
What does home mean to you Dinesh Yadev interview

INDEPENDENCE EVE

As Delhi fell into a level of silence in preparation for the Republic Day, we celebrated our time together with a final meal at QBA cafe, a favourite haunt of socialists and artists in its heyday.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
Group qba café rooftop. From left to right back row: Lise Klitten (Denmark), Dorota Kuzniarska (Poland), Fiona Watt (UK), Sabine Snijders (Netherlands), Rosane Muniz (Brazil), Sarah Mosher (USA), Anat Mesner (Israel), Hilary Baxter (UK), Kathe De Vault, Sandy Bonds (USA), Carolina Jimenez (Mexico), Dinesh Yadev (India/USA) From left to right front row: Estela Fagoaga (Mexico), Ildyko Tihanyi (Hungary), Katarzhina Zakharova (Russia), Fruzina Nagy (Hungary) Edyta Rzewuska (Mexico)

While researching the origins of the Costume Design Sub Commission, I came across this quote from a long and thoughtful letter read and discussed by the group at their meeting in Antwerp in 1999 from Maija Pekkane, a costume designer from Finland who at that time was Vice Chair of what was then the Scenography Commission.

“‘The OISTAT meetings present a "lifelong study," a University for its members.’ ”

As a scenographer, educator and a human being who has chosen not to follow a dedicated academic research path, this has 100% been my lived experience of being a part of this organisation.

Fiona Watt – Oistat India Textile Tour
NSD Workshops Final Sharing

Maija Pekkane went on to become the first female President of OISTAT (2001- 2005) and our current President, Aby Cohen is only the second.

English is the pre-dominant and common language used throughout the major events and meetings that OISTAT organises and we continue to try and address this.

It can be challenging to understand its structure and it has to be our ongoing priority and goal for it to evolve to be more diverse and inclusive, but it has welcomed me with open arms and being connected to this worldwide family has generated a sense of belonging beyond the limits of national perspectives and the challenges of a freelance career.

With immense thanks to: Dinesh Yadev, Chair: Performance Design Commission), Rosane Muniz (Chair: Costume Design Sub-Commission and Fruzina Nagy (Vice Chair: Costume Design Sub Commission for organising the trip on behalf of OISTAT, the National School of Drama, Delhi, Banares Hindu University, the Hungarian Embassy and SBTD (one of two OISTAT CENTRES in the UK, ABTT being the other).

As a member of SBTD, you automatically become a member of OISTAT.

If you are interested in joining in with the activities of the Costume Design Sub-Commission or the Performance Design Commission, you can find out more by contacting

Dinesh Yadev:  Chair, Performance Design Commission

Rosane Muniz: Chair, Costume Design Sub-Commission pdc­_costume@oistat.org

www.oistat.org

 

All photos by Fiona Watt and members of the Costume Design Sub- Commission

 

FIONA WATT

Fiona develops commissioned projects as a scenographer, lead artist and curator. She is an Associate Lecturer at London College of Fashion and has taught design for performance across a range of institutions in the UK, including University for the Creative Arts and Rose Bruford as well as leading projects and panels for the Prague Quadrennial and World Stage Design.

From 2014 – 2021, Fiona was Honorary Secretary and subsequently Chair of SBTD, advocating for designers at every stage of their career and giving a nationwide focus to the organisation.

In 2019 she curated Staging Places: UK Design for Performance on behalf of SBTD, representing the work of 150 professional designers based in the UK at the Prague Quadrennial before taking up residency at the V&A, London from July 2019 – March 2020 www.stagingplaces.co.uk

Fiona is UK Performance Design Commissioner for OISTAT and was a founding Co-Chair of the OISTAT Space Design Sub-Commission.

If you would like to chat with Fiona about OISTAT, contact us at admin@theatredesign.org.uk  and we’ll put you in touch.


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