Tell us your name, background and earliest textile memories?
My name is Shara Ismail. I was born in Whitechapel, London. I am a British-born Bangladeshi – Bengali. Textiles and fabrics have been part of my life since birth. I’ve been brought up with wearing Bangladeshi clothes, Asian clothes: salwar kameez, saris. Even as a child I use to wear saris. Me and my sister use to dress up wearing saris. There’s pictures of us with different types of saris: lots of different ones, Jamdani sari and silk. So my family, my mum was very fond of wearing different types of saris. Amazing Bangladeshi cultural textiles and it’s always very colourful.
Where did you find or buy these textiles and what were your earliest memories?
So my earliest memories is when I first went to Bangladesh. We would go the sari shops in the mall. In these markets there were lots of different types of shops where we would sit down, the shopkeepers would sort the saris out, give you a drink, get you a cup of tea and sweetmeats, and you’d sit there. My mum would buy lots of different saris for her family and friends. And then she’ll get some for London. She would get shawls. She loves Jamdanis. She has a selection of Jamdanis. I remember her packing her suitcases full of saris and Jamdanis. She’ll always give them to people. She was very particular with her taste as well, about how the border should be like. She likes her black and gold colours.
Does muslin and Jamdanis connects you with your culture?
It’s always been a key feature because when I think about social occasions like Eid or wedding parties, it will always be Jamdani or muslin. Everyone would be wearing them. If you go to a wedding there would always be a Jamdani sari. It was something that was part of going to events, occasions, generally Bangladeshi clothing, shawls and salwar kameez’s we were always exposed to it, we wore it, knew about it. It was something that was part of our everyday life. I always remember my mum being very fond of Jamdani. I think we still have it somewhere, she’s still got it somewhere, she’s got lots of Jamdani, lots of muslin inside her cupboard where she nicely puts all her clothes and saris from Bangladesh. Only Bangladeshi textiles are put nicely in a cupboard, in a very special particular way. When it comes to textiles it has to be folded, ironed in a certain way- you can hang them but it was almost always on top of each other. One thing I remember is the way they were all piled up in different colours and different sections.
Would you wear Jamdani and how is it being kept for future generations?
I would love to wear Jamdani. I have worn Jamdani in the past. In this day and age, sadly so, it’s become something that people don’t wear very often, not celebrated very often by people of Bangladeshi heritage. I think sometimes for occasions you might wear it, but not all the time. I feel quite sad ‘cause the only memories I have now is of my mother wearing Jamdani sari. I don’t know whether I would step in my mother’s footsteps in wearing Jamdani saris or have a passion for it. I think being in London and wearing European clothing, you only wear it when you go to an Asian wedding, or Asian party and even so, because of time restraints and the way you’re travelling, I don’t think I would wear it as much and I think it’s actually dying out, which is really sad. I wish we could revive it again. I think Jamdani and muslin is a very beautiful cloth and textile that is our heritage, that we’re kind of losing it because of European superior-ism or something.
Your earliest memories, when you first experienced Jamdani?
I just loved the printed Jamdani, the design of it, the softness. I know it’s a very awkward material and it’s very difficult to wear in different kinds of ways. I always think wow when I use to see and wear it. It’s really stands out. It’s really an amazing cloth. I love the fact – I remember my mum had a gold and reddish Jamdani sari and it had a print on it; when you wear Jamdani it’s a fine material, it was really awkward to put on and won’t stay in a set way. Like cotton would stay on you in a sense. It’s a very awkward material but when she put it on and did it correctly, it looked amazing. I love the fact that it’s very elegant and very beautiful.