After Words: Hussein Chalayan, A/W 2000


"Conceptual and visionary approach for Chalayan means quest into interdisciplinary spheres. His work is inspired by technology, science, philosophy, anthropology, politics, architecture. With Chalayan we cannot witness a typical visual reference to historical costumes or art pieces (as with Westwood or Galliano). Hussein Chalayan rather digs into his personal history and cultural identity; what has defined him as author of his life, torn between two cultural identities – the Cypriot and the British. The complexity of living with multiple ethnic and cultural identities has led him to themes such as nationality, migration, refugees, forced displacement, and ethnic cleansing." [1]

"In Afterwords, Hussein Chalayan focused on the involuntary and dramatic aspect of mobility, and illustrated the sentimental impacts of the forced migration. The installation has been synchronized by the runway including Chalayan’s Autumn/Winter Women’s Collection of 2000. It presents furniture covered in grey clothes, which are worn later by fashion models that strip the clothes from the furniture to dress themselves. These fashion models, who represent the immigrants in dull clothing, fold the chairs later in order to make them into suitcases. One of the models transforms a mahogany coffee table into a geometrical and telescopic skirt, so that it becomes displaceable on human body. 

According to the official website of the artist, Chalayan was inspired by the forced internal migration of the Turkish Cypriot families in Cyprus after the 1974 events. Chalayan’s family is told also to be among those who had to quit their homes in order to escape from the ethnic cleansing. The project does not only reflect the wretched atmosphere of the unwanted displacement, it also addresses to how the immigrants try to adjust to the situation by not leaving behind the personal possessions. This is made possible through the transformation of the possessions into detachable objects; such as chairs made into suitcases or tables into skirts." [2]

"The collection Afterwords for Autumn/Winter 2000 bursts with ethnic-cultural self-references. In one of the most exciting fashion presentations in past decades, Chalayan makes a strong political statement on the terrors of war and displacement. Very shortly after the Kosovo crisis in 1999 and the huge swathes of Albanian and Serbian refugees, he used his collection to remind of the Cyprus dispute and the ethnic cleansing in 1974. His own family has struggled in the period of displacement, when Cyprus has been divided in two parts – Greek domination in the South and Turkish domination in the North. It is estimated that up to 200,000 Greek Cypriots and 65,000 Turkish Cypriots were displaced by the Turkish invasion on the island.

Chalayan presented his collection as artistic performance, moving away from a typical catwalk show. He used Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London for staging the performance. Moreover, he produced the “After Words” video from the performance, which entered the portfolio of his art projects. The performance starts with 5 people sitting on chairs, representing a family. There is a round coffee table in the middle. When the models appear on stage, they clothe themselves with the clothes hidden on chairs; the coffee table becomes a skirt. The furniture transforms into wearable pieces and embodies Chalayan’s concept for a mobile environment. Chalayan’s aesthetical concept is evident: he goes back to Constructivism and its geometry, reductionism, sculpturalism, kinetics, and apparent absence of emotions." [1]

"Afterwords speaks from the viewpoint of the subaltern (or the subordinate group), those who are obliged to leave their homes, possessions and identifications as members of a certain society. The displacement which is narrated in this project signifies the momentum of the creation of a nation-state, with all its particularism aiming for the homogenization of a society. The subaltern position of the immigrants emerges from the fact that they are debarred from their civil, political and social rights of citizenship and their possessions which have the (liberal) symbolic meanings of identification to a certain society. Since the artist designs the clothes as portable private properties, the immigrants can carry these items that define their identities and cultures during their unwanted journeys. In a way, the clothes go beyond their original functionalities of covering or protection and their new main function becomes logistical of possessions in both concrete and abstract meanings. In the end, the portable clothing helps keeping the constitutive aspects of the own identities, which would be eventually embedded to the newly formed hybrid identities.

Hussein Chalayan challenges the historical context in which the immigrants had to leave behind their possessions and lose their identity because of their un-portable quality of the objects. In the press release of the project, Chalayan affirms that he has “wanted to somehow turn a horrific situation into something poetic”, and henceforth intervene to the historical context by the creation of a new narrative- an emergent minority discourse. It reflects the symbolic process of challenging the holistic and totalizing language of the nation, which has been argued before by Bhabha (153) with references to Fanon’s subaltern discourse and Kristeva’s feminist claims. Bhabha affirms that the new discourse interrupts the existing narrations, not through negating them but via renegotiating the imagination which was solidified over time. In Afterwords, Chalayan recognizes the displacement and the subordinate position of the immigrants (reinforced with the abrasive atmosphere, dull colors and depressing music), yet at the same time allows them a relatively more active position where they can adapt the physical nature to the social context." [2]

"The whiteness of the stage (a room) where the show is held emphasizes the moods of minimalism and calmness. It is obvious that Chalayan doesn’t want to evoke feelings of anxiety. Instead, he offers a sanctuary. He makes a safe-haven, a shelter for the refugees he refers to. Giving refugees a chance to take their possessions with them is a way of self-healing for Chalayan. He finds a design solution to the problem of displacement and gives his family, his people, and in the end all other refugees a compensation for their emotional struggle. In other words, he expresses his deep sentiments of belonging and compassion." [1]

VIDEO AND STILLS VIA YOUTUBE AND VIMEO; TEXT BY GORDANA VRENCOSKA, TAKEN FROM "POLITICAL STATEMENTS IN CONCEPTUAL FASHION: THE VOICE OF NATIONAL SENTIMENTS AS A SELF-REFERENCE IN THE READY-TO-WEAR COLLECTIONS OF ALEXANDER MCQUEEN AND HUSSEIN CHALAYAN,ANNUAL REVIEW NO. 2, EUROPEAN UNIVERSITY: REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA, 2009 [1]; AND FROM "TRANSNATIONALISM AND HYBRIDITY IN THE ART OF HUSSEIN CHALAYAN," BY DAMLA B. AKSEL, VIA TRESPASSING JOURNAL [2]