Host Seth Cerrate interviews photographer and collagist twins Anna and Valeriia Lyshchenko in One Art Space, a gallery in Tribeca, during its second annual International Women’s Day Art Fair. Born in the Ukraine and now based out of Brooklyn, the artists’ channel shared experiences, such as watching the sky, in their collages.
As March is deemed Women’s History Month, it is no surprise that New York is filled with events honoring the notable women of our past. For the second year in a row, One Art Space, a gallery located in Tribeca, is hosting its International Women’s Day Art Fair.
The fair is curated by Frank Giella, a teacher of art history at Forest Hills High School and the son of the oldest living Batman cartoonist Joe Giella. The fair is the only one of its kind. I’d be interviewing the artists, and curator to investigate the recruiting process and individual artist development.
There is no shortage of Indian fashion designers around the world but for Bangladesh and Bengali women especially, a fashion designer career is new. On the story, Suswana Chowdhury, reports on one Bengali-American woman who is trying to uplift the Bengali culture and heritage through her fashion label.
Mehjabeen Hassan, 24 years old, sits on her bed surrounded by yards of raw silk fabric in gold, blue, red, and white. Her room in Jamaica, Queens doubles as her design studio for her South Asian fashion label meant to represent the modern Indian-American woman. Born and raised in Bangladesh before emigrating to the U.S., Mehjabeen wants her clothes to reflect her dual identity both in style and creation.
“Whenever I ask anyone who can afford to get clothes from India and other places made for themselves for their wedding, not a single person shops in Dhaka for their wedding,” said Mehjabeen. “It’s only people who can’t afford to go to India for their wedding shopping that they would shop in Dhaka. And it’s mostly replicas and very cheaply made replicas of Indian designer clothing.”
Mehjabeen associates the lack of acceptance for fashion as a career in Bangladesh and thus a lack of options for why most people purchase clothes from India. For many Bengali women, being a fashion designer is not considered to be a viable option.
“You know India has really good design schools, we do too but that industry – fashion design, the career itself, it’s still very very new in Bangladesh,” she commented. “Even the ones that study outside, they come back to Dhaka and they open department stores. And they export clothing to other countries or they import clothing. And that’s the end of it, that’s the end of anyone who studies fashion design or anything related to that because it’s not a career. To anyone back home, it’s not a career. You must be willing to do something else besides that.”
Bangladesh does have a relatively conservative culture that also permeates into the homes of Bengali-American children in the U.S. Mehjabeen herself has faced a lot of prejudice and resistance from family and others in the community.
“I constantly get told that you have to have time for important things which are number one, marriage because your entire life has to revolve around that, a husband and a child,” she said. “If after that you have time, you can focus on your hobbies because to a lot of people this is a hobby.”
“But then it’s been what, it’s been almost two years that I’ve been doing this – people are seeing more and more of my work. And I see a lot of people coming to me and saying, ‘So where do you get your clothes sown and who does it for you?’ And then, you come to realize that they don’t know that I do these things by myself, that I’m actually involved in the hands-on process and actually making the clothes, making the patterns, and then to give to my seamstress to finish it off. Because to them that’s the norm.”
To try and renew the Bengali heritage in her fashion label, Mehjabeen creates designs with the natural fabrics found in the country as opposed to using synthetic materials.
“I try my best to get fabrics that were created in Dhaka and not in India, not just because it has anything to do with Bangladesh or Dhaka where you get the fabric from, just to be able to tell people that you can get your raw materials from Bangladesh and not India. You can get these fabrics made.”
“When I do my couture collection every single year, they are I have to say very small but I really really order them way ahead of time to make sure I get those fabrics that are truly Bengali in heritage and truly Bengali in their source, and not manufactured or weaved in India. But it’s really hard, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like all of the stuff that I have, the fabric and the materials, are from Bangladesh. Because it’s not, majority of it is not. And it’s sad, and hopefully when we expand and when we have the resource, I will have an office in Bangladesh and I want to be able to work with weavers who are local and create the fabrics that I want.”
To many people outside of the culture, there might not be an obvious difference between Indian and Bengali fashion. But there is a distinction. However, Mehjabeen commented, in the age of globalization a lot of people in the community are mixing up the two cultures making it seem as if everything is borrowed from India.
“Just like everything is global, everyone wants to be a global persona these days,” she said. “That’s all good and great as long as you don’t tell people that what you’re doing is actual Bangladeshi traditions because it’s not, you’re misleading people. I see a lot of friends who take people, their friends who are not South Asian to eat Bengali food and they’re calling Indian food Bangladeshi, and that’s all on us. This whole thing where we make it seem like Bangladesh has no real sense of fashion, food, culture, anything, we make it seem like that, it’s us.”
At the end of the day, Mehjabeen hesitates to call herself a fashion designer but hopes to one day expand the label into a recognized brand with a larger influence.
“I feel like when people say ‘oh you’re a fashion designer,’ I still feel really, for lack of a better phrase, I still feel really awkward that I haven’t reached at that level where I feel like a fashion designer needs to be in order to be called a fashion designer,” she said.
“I call it a label, not a brand yet as you can see. I have always called it a label and not a brand but someday when I reach that vision where I can custom make all the fabrics, I can create the pieces the way I want them to, that’s the day I’m going to call it a brand, that’s the day I’m going to call myself a true fashion designer. And that’s my end goal, that’s the goal of this label, to be recognized as a brand and not just another Instagram page that calls itself a label.”
Mehjabeen is planning a trip to Bangladesh in 2018 to start building a factory that will pay women fair wages and start to close the skills gap between men and women in the country. Reporting for Baruch College, I’m Suswana Chowdhury.
Host/Narrator: Tiffany Ponce
Guest: Tina Burner
Special Thanks to Tina Burner, Miss Sherry Vine, and Industry Bar!
Amelia Diaz arrived in the United States from the Dominican Republic 40 years ago. While working in a factory sewing clothes, it was her dream to become a hair stylist. She decided to attend beauty school, eventually earning her cosmetology license. Not only does she have many of the customers she’s had since the doors of her beauty salon swung open 25 years ago, her customer roster continues to grow. Anyone entering the energetic environment at the salon is greeted with echoes of chatter and laughter from clients of different ethnicities, blow driers and water running in the wash basins. Those are a few of the sounds bouncing off the salon’s lemony and tangerine colored walls, covered with posters of the latest hair styles, mirrors and outreach information meant to be of help to those in need. The salon is opened six days a week, with one day set aside for a special group of customers.
A client’s true hair color may be the only thing that’s a well-kept secret at New Color Beauty Salon located in the El Barrio Section of East Harlem. What is no longer a secret to many, is owner, Amelia Diaz’s, generosity. Looking good is not the only thing that matters to Amelia. Doing something good to help others is much more important.
Shortly after opening the salon, Amelia started a clothes drive because she wanted to send clothes to men, women and children in the Dominican Republic. In light of the recent storms that have ravaged the country, Amelia prefers to send the clothes and cash donations to a charitable organization such as the Red Cross. In recent years, she found that some of her customers and people in the community needed help as well.
Valarie Codora, a 15 year old high school student, spends time in the salon getting on-hands training from Amelia and the rest of the staff. Valarie said, “My mother used to come to this salon. My mother passed away two years ago. My grandmother doesn’t help me a lot. So one day I came inside Amelia’s. Because Amelia knows what happened to my mother she was doing my hair for free. One day I came in looking terrible. I had on dirty clothes. I just looked bad. Amelia changed my whole life. She’s making me know what it feels like to be a kid again instead of me having the big responsibility of being by myself.”
Amelia, along with her daughter, a school teacher, went to visit several schools to introduce a program called Do Good, Look Good. Amelia strongly believes that uplifting a child’s self esteem will encourage them to do better in school and in life. She closes the salon very Wednesday to provide services for students only. Students from different schools come to get their hair done for free, discuss issues that concern them, and receive tutoring and help with their homework. Hayane Magree a former recipient of the program’s benefits said, “She told me I’m going to do your hair for free until you graduate from high school. She kept her word. She had her daughter here to help the kids with homework. She was there for everybody.”
According to other stylists and customers, Amelia shies away from talking about her generosity. If it were up to her she would love to donate her kindness anonymously, but there is no way her work can go unnoticed. Amelia feels she doesn’t do enough for others. She said, “I’m not generous. I don’t think I’m generous. I’m supposed to do more. I’m supposed to be better. God gives me a lot. He says love your neighbor like you. We don’t do it. We have to love each other a little more.”
Photo Credit: MGN
In this episode I interview several bouncers in New York City, getting the behind the scenes of how bouncers think while managing the front door of New York’s nightlife.