THE ITEMS WE POSSESS and clothes we wear have unspoken power in our lives; in function, but also as anchors to our stories, memories and identities.
Take the notoriety of Honoré De Balzac’s famous writing coat. Legend has it that the author wore the monkish cowl routinely when he wrote. Auguste Rodin’s posthumous sculpture of the author had him cover the mould with a cloth soaked in wet plaster, capturing the house coat just so. The coat became so synonymous with Balzac that when Oscar Wilde went through his Parisian bohème phase, he wore a white dressing gown during the day while he worked, fashioned after his hero’s garb. The narrative of Balzac’s coat speaks of the transcendental power of a garment as an object of personal value, but also in our presentation to others.
Taking cue from Balzac’s symbolic coat, this series asks subjects from different contexts and cultural backgrounds to select an article of clothing that is meaningful or significant in their life. The dialogues that follow reveal the story of a wearer, but more broadly, the universal connection between dress and everyday life.
In the first instalment Hamza Kaddur, a Berber jewellery trader in Morocco, nominates his turban as the garment subject. Embedded in the story of Hamza’s turban is a notion of self image and pride that sets him apart from others, but is integral to his sense of belonging in his local culture. It connects him with his own personal history – his ancestors also wore turbans – and the people he meets on his travels abroad.
For Hamza, the act of tying the turban is a process that holds performative power, linking him with others when he learns new methods from others. The turban also connects Hamza to his land, and he chooses the naturally dyed brick-red colour as it goes with the gold of Morocco’s desert sand.
My three grandfathers before me wore turbans and so I wear one now. It is a symbol of the past, and has been passed down from grandfather, to grandfather, to me. I’ve worn one since age twelve, and I am now sixty-six. What I like about it is that anyone can wear one and tie it for themselves in their own way. But the turban is not part of my religion. I believe religion is more than clothes.
Originally, I am from the South of Morocco, a place called Tafilalt. It is a larger city with a market three times a week. In the markets we sell many things, and a lot of the people wear turbans, and they wear them in many different ways. I live in Essaouira now, and I have lived here for twenty-two years, but I always travel. I have been traveling since I was young, I am never staying for too long in the house. I leave to travel every few months and bring back my jewellery to sell at the market.
I wear the turban because I live in a culture where it is a common part of our dress, it is a way of belonging to the people of the kasbah. Our traditional clothes are called djellaba, but I don’t feel relaxed in these clothes, so I wear western clothes. My turban shows that I am from Morocco and reflects my history. In our culture, the turban symbolises man and his energy, but there are different symbols for women.
If I didn’t wear the turban I would feel like I had left something behind. It is a part of myself. I put it on each morning before I leave: I get up, take my shower, and then I tie my turban.
At home I keep a collection of different turbans; I have a blue one, a black one, a yellow, among others. I prefer the red one I am wearing now, the colour is symbolic because it goes with Morocco’s desert surroundings. The colour of the desert sand here is different from that of the south, and it’s not like sand you see in the beach. The colour of the sand of Morocco is like gold, and so the red of my turban goes with gold colour.
Our turbans are made from the fabric brought from places like India, Sudan, Mali, Dakar, and all over Africa. We add the colour by dying the raw material. For red we use the pomegranate fruit or henna, and for blue we use the indigo flower. This is a flower that grows in the desert sand and can only be cut between dusk and early morning during one month of the year. When you see the colour of the sun coming into the sky then the flower is ready to be cut. The indigo from the flower creates such a strong blue colour that with a single gram you can make one hundred kilos of linen. With the indigo we dye many things: clothes, paintings, even houses. We used to build our houses out of wood and make the colour correspond with our natural surroundings. But now, since the climate is very hot, we now live within the walls of the kasbah.
I have my own system of tying the turban that I use each day. My father was first to show me how to tie the turban, but in my travels people have shared their different methods with me. Different countries wear the turban in different ways, but at the moment, I wear it in a style that is similar to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the turban I am wearing right now, there are twelve metres of fabric. Sometimes you can have more than this, but when the weather is very hot, we have less. The turban also protects me from the wind and sand of the desert, it keeps my head clean, not to mention beautiful! During the hot season it prevents the sun from shining directly onto my head and into my mind, it shines on the turban instead.
I have a son who now lives and studies in Canada, he sometimes wears his turban with his friends, but he is free to do as he pleases. So long as he smiles and has a clean heart, he can do what he wants. God is not something we can see in the way we dress, we can see it on the inside.
Shana Chandra is a New Zealand-based writer on fashion and culture.
Mark Hall-Patch is an illustrator and painter from Canada.