Der Saree als vergeschlechtlichte soziokulturelle Identität

By Jyotika Purwar & Martina Spies

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12 04 17 — 15:54

During the world exhibition we deal with the traditional Indian cloth, the Saree, a five to six meter long rectangular cloth which basically consists of three parts: the paluv (also pallu), the shoulder part which emphasises the female shoulder, the „corpus“ and the decorative border. Under the Saree women wear a long undercoat; The upper body is covered with a short and tight blouse called choli.

The history of the Saree can be traced back to 2800-1800 BC and belongs to one of the oldest garments in the world. Originally Hindus believed that only a fabric that had not come in contact with a needle was really „pure and clean“. Therefore, Indian women wore only this traditional garment. An old story illustrates the origin of the Saree: a man in love wanted to weave a dress for his beloved. But at night he fell asleep, and therefore a very long cloth – the Saree – came out.

There are many different ways to wear a Saree differing from status, culture and origin of the woman. Feminine attributes such as a narrow waist or bulging hips are part of the culture of the Saree and an important part of the Indian female image. The Saree has always been an expression of female identity and beauty. It has been worn in many different ways and draped differently by individuals.

Today, more and more Indian women are opting for Western clothes. For this reason, a number of initiatives are trying to revive wearing the Saree. In the course of the exhibition, we will also explore the sociocultural motives on the digital level. We show different personal stories that are often hidden – along with their very specific cultural and social background.

The decision whether to wear a Saree does not mean more than a simple „fashion statement“: Most women – especially in rural India – still wear the Saree every day. In contrast to many traditional women, many modern Indians wear Western clothes as a social and political statement and as a sign that women are allowed to make personal choices. There are cases that a woman wears western clothes when her traditional family (especially the mother-in-law) is absent and wears a Saree when she is with her family. This shows that the Saree is not only a culturally, but also a strong socially motivated statement. And it is a subtle statement as well. The rebellion is a domestic push pull of traditional values.

For our Saree project, we are interviewing women mostly from Mumbai. The megacity blends all different cultures and backgrounds of Indian communities within a limited space. We want to show the various facets and social nuances of all women and reveal their stories behind them.

Implementation of our concept in the glass palace:


We analyse the origin and the history, the different styles / drappings and the cultural significance of the Saree. In this context, we especially refer to the origin and the different „localisation“ of the Saree within India. The variety of colors, the handloom techniques, symbols and religious significance vary within India. In the following, we ask ourselves if only women wear the Saree or also men, and in which ways the Saree can be understood as an art form.


We create a sociocultural map (Mapping the Saree) of the Saree and analyse the different styles within selected areas in India. The Saree is perceived as a socio-cultural type of clothing which is closely connected to the different rites and traditions within Indian society.


We collect and show „Saree stories“ on the GLASPALÄ website and our blog before and during the exhibition.


The visitors can actively participate within the glass cube: They have the possibility to wrap a Saree by themselves with the help of simple instructions.


We develop new objects as an artistic and sociocultural impulse made from different Saree fabrics.

Jyotika Purwar

My background and education is in interior architecture with interdisciplinary approach. I have a Master in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Bachelor in Interior Design from CEPT, Ahmedabad. I have worked in places like Chicago and New York for several years as a design educator before moving back to Mumbai. Here along with interior architecture, I have worked extensively in the fields of branding design and strategy, advertising, retail point-of-sale activation and experience design for real estate. Currently, I am working as an experience designer at Godrej Properties Ltd.. My role specifically is to design the entire life style propositions of our various properties across India.

Martina Spies

Martina Spies holds a PhD in architecture, is a builder and activist. In 2013 she and her father founded the organization Anukruti, which builds playgrounds on vacant urban sites within slums in the megacity Mumbai. She has gained experience in international offices such as Shigeru Ban in Japan, COSTFORD, B.V. Doshi and Hasmukh Patel in India. Between 2013 and 2016, she worked as a research manager for the project Ground Up – A Dwellers‘ Focused Design Tool for Upgrading Living Space’ in Dharavi, Mumbai in one of the highest density and largest informal settlements in the world. At Studio X Mumbai, Martina Spies, in cooperation with Columbia University, was the successful curator of two international exhibitions called Dharavi: Places and Identities and Mumbai – which bring the four neighbourhoods in the slum in the middle of Megacity Mumbai alive and Let‘s play! Children as Creators of Informal Playspaces, which showcased the culture of playing in India for the first time.

Michaela Rotsch

Bildende Künstlerin, transdisziplinäre und -kulturelle Forschung mit arabesken Organisationsstrukturen und syntopischen Werkstrukturen.

* Der Prototyp der Glaskuben stammt aus der künstlerischen Werkstruktur SYNTOPIAN VAGABOND, die hier mit dem transkulturellen Projektansatz von GLASPALÄSTE durch die gemeinsame Rahmenstruktur der Glaskuben verbunden wird. Dadurch wird die Grenze zwischen Bildender Kunst und anderen kulturellen Bereichen ausgelotet.

Michaela Rotsch

Fine artist, transdisciplinary and transcultural research with arabesque organisational structures and syntopic work structures.

* The prototype of the glass cubes comes from the artistic work structure SYNTOPIAN VAGABOND, which is linked here to the transcultural approach of GLASPALÄSTE through the common structure of the glass cubes. Thus the boundary between contemporary art and other cultural areas is explored.

Irmtraud Voglmayr

Soziologin und Medienwissenschaftlerin, Schwerpunkte in Forschung und Lehre: Stadt- und Raumforschung, Medien, Gender und Klasse.

Irmtraud Voglmayr

Sociologist and media theorist, focussing on research and teaching: city and urban planning, media, gender and class.

Juliane Zellner

Juliane Zellner studierte Theaterwissenschaft (M.A.) in München, Urban Studies (MSc.) in London und promoviert derzeit an der Hafencity Universität im Fachbereich Kultur der Metropolen.

Juliane Zellner

Juliane Zellner holds a degree in Theatre Studies (M.A.) from LMU Munich and a degree in Urban Studies (MSc) from UCL London.

Currently she is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Metropolitan Culture at the HCU Hamburg.