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Hormazd Narielwalla from Paper Dolls (2018)

Work / Art

Hormazd Narielwalla explores identity through geometry and geishas

We don’t often find ourselves shuffling down Savile Row here at It’s Nice That. Known the world over for the immaculate suits hand-cut by the dozens of tailors who toil away in this particularly swanky slice of Mayfair, the street is synonymous with a particularly well heeled kind of affluence. Artist Hormazd Narielwalla hopes his latest publication, Paper Dolls will help viewers see Savile Row in a more artistic light.

The book — which has been released by Concentric Editions — brings together a collection of the acclaimed artist’s signature abstract collage artworks on vintage sewing patterns, alongside a set of figurative self-portraits in which Hormazd himself appears in the guise of a geisha.

The more figurative work is joined by a series of geometric abstractions, creating a project which joins the dots between Cindy Sherman and Frank Stella.

“I had no personal connection with the Row,” Hormazd tells us when we ask about the origins of Paper Dolls. While studying for an MA at the University of Westminster, he found himself fascinated by military uniforms. A trip to Chelsea’s National Army Museum saw the artist strike up a conversation with the curator, who pointed him in the direction of one of London’s best-known sites of the industry. “I was quite intimidated by it,” he admits, candidly.

Nonetheless, he pursued a chap named William Skinner, the managing director of Savile Row’s Dege & Skinner. At this first meeting, Hormazd noticed a pile of patterns bunched on the floor. His curiosity was piqued. The patterns were, in William’s words, ‘dead’, exhausted, and set to be shredded. “I didn’t understand that each customer had a bespoke pattern constructed for them, and what he meant was the customer had passed away, and they will be destroyed, as the ‘body’ no longer exists," Hormazd tells It’s Nice That.

The impact on the artist was profound. He persuaded William Skinner to pass on the patterns on the condition that all traces of the previous owner’s identity would be removed, with the patterns being the starting point of a future project. “I started viewing them as anthropological shapes representing the human body,” Hormazd says. “I photographed and scanned them, and digitally played with them, the result was an artists’ book called Dead Man’s Patterns.

Anothe project from Hormazd, Paper Dolls sees the Indian-born, London-based artist still using the bespoke patterns he’s become known for, but this time around, he is using them as a form of exploring his relationship to the idea of masquerade. Inspired by Ru Paul’s Drag Race and the seminal ballroom documentary Paris is Burning, and a memorable night at a gay leather bar in east London, he finds himself fascinated in how masks, costumes, and disguises allow us to “make fantasy as real as possible.”

Adopting the visual persona of a geisha, Hormazd says of the work contained in Paper Dolls that, “I’m not reinventing myself. I’m just borrowing someone’s identity momentarily to express a certain fraction of my identity. In these works as an exotic Geisha – so I guess my inner femininity.”

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Hormazd Narielwalla from Paper Dolls (2018)

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Hormazd Narielwalla from Paper Dolls (2018)

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Hormazd Narielwalla from Paper Dolls (2018)

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Hormazd Narielwalla from Paper Dolls (2018)

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Hormazd Narielwalla from Paper Dolls (2018)