Whose Line is it anyway?
Having created monochrome line-centric sarees born out of geometry, two designers question copyright
Social media is the new place to call out alleged plagiarists, and this week saw one of India's biggest names in fashion design embroiled in a controversy, when a young Mumbai designer accused him of copying.
Sanjay Garg, who burst onto the scene 10 years ago and runs a prominent brand of contemporary Indian hand woven textiles, has been called out by Mumbai designer Vaishali Shadangule for what she calls an act of "blatant copying".
It all started when Shadangule's friends noticed a black and white geometric patterned saree by Sanjay Garg's label Raw Mango on his Instagram page. "When I checked the account, I realised it is not similar, it's the same. It's a thumbprint copy of the design I showcased from my Spring/Summer 2013 collection at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week. It is a blatant copy," Shadangule told mid-day.
Raw Mango's design in question is the Broken Stripe saree, which is part of the Spring/Summer 2018 range of 12 black and white Chanderis woven in linear patterns using thread and silver zari. There is also a white on white version.
A saree from Sanjay Garg's Grid collection
The truth is that Garg was inspired by geometric abstract artists. "The inspiration for my S/S 2018 collection titled Grid were mainly contemporary artists like Nasreen Mohamedi and Agnes Martin, and their signature monochromatic works and line-based drawings," he said about the late artist, Mohamedi, who is considered a pioneer in redefining South Asian modernism. Mohamedi, who was born in Karachi but moved to Mumbai in 1944 before settling in Baroda, was mentored by VS Gaitonde and Tyeb Mehta, and is remembered for her abstract drawings of grids and geometric shapes in graphite. "It's Mohamedi and Martin's works that are alluded to and acknowledged in my collection note and on my Instagram page," Garg continued.
The Agnes Martin painting that Garg said inspired his saree collection
Shadangule launched her luxury label, Vaishali S, in 2001, and draws influence from indigenous handlooms to create modern, wearable garments. The black and white striped saree is from a collection titled Athaaha, created from Chanderi fabric from Madhya Pradesh, and woven khand from Maharashtra.
Pictures can be telling. But pictures can also influence perception, and hide nuances. If stripes and the colour palette are the only point of contention, the infringement argument beckons deeper investigation. Should the precise width and symmetry of stripes, which differ in both designs, be taken into account? Shadangule's white saree's mid-section (where the pleats fold) and the pallu border are framed in solid black, while Garg's version is stark white with black lines. "It's possible that two contemporaries can be on the same creative page. Of course, two artists or designers can also adopt the same approach or inspiration to create something, but it's impossible that two final works will be identical unless so planned," Shadangule argued.
Garg said, "Ironically, even Nasreen's work has been compared to Agnes Martin's although she hadn't come across Martin's work until later in her career. I don't think this is the first time that the language of lines and geometry has been used in textile design nor do I believe this will be the last."
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