Inclusivity in fashion is the natural way forward, says Sheetal Mallar

The supermodel talks about the fashion world, her latest exhibition in Mumbai and love for photography

For Sheetal Mallar, one of India’s leading supermodels, photographs are not just about capturing a moment, but also a way to introspect. That’s one of the ideas she wants to convey through her ongoing exhibition. “Braided”, which started last week at Mumbai’s Art Musings gallery.

The series of mixed-media art, which includes photographs, drawings, text and a self-published photo-book, focuses on the intricacies of identity and ageing, and explores the bond between mothers and daughters. She looked at hair, for instance, to depict how haircare rituals (something as simple as oiling) when done together “are a way to bond”, says Mallar, who recently walked the ramp for Sabyasachi’s jewellery show in Delhi. 

In an interview with Lounge, Mallar talks about modelling, her love for photography and how the fashion world is evolving. Edited excerpts: 

What was the idea behind ‘Braided’? 

I was in a stage where I wanted to look at some emotions that are at my core. In some ways, it was a conscious effort to go back to childhood stories and find threads of those memories. With time, you start realising that you don’t have as much time as you think. Holding on to these stories become very important then, especially when it comes to relationships between moms and daughters. Such bonds are vulnerable as well as beautiful. I feel my maternal figures have been very instrumental in how I have been shaped as a woman. I am understanding them and myself more through the passage of time.

 Sheetal Mallar

How has the transition been, from full-time modelling to photography?

My modelling journey has been a big part of my life. I was a baby when I started. I am grateful for all that it has given me and taught me. The transition felt like I was a teenager all over again, treading a new path and everything that comes with it. 

The second chapter with photography and visual arts feels like my calling. I am excited to mix up my favourite media to tell stories. I look at my work like stories. So, the storytelling aspect of it is exciting for me. I also shoot fashion and lifestyle and some commercial works.

Any photographers/artists you admire?

I like are Nan Goldin, Rineke Dijkstra, Cindy Sherman, Dayanita Singh and Gauri Gill. 

Does fashion inform your work in any way?

Modelling gives you a sense of what the business of fashion is. It’s a challenging business and you learn survival through it. Photography and the arts are more voyeuristic and imaginative. It takes another side of oneself to take that forward. 

You are still very much part of the fashion world, with your appearances on the ramp and for brand campaigns. Do you believe fashion is finally becoming more inclusive?

Getting the former supermodels back is a trend, for now. I feel inclusivity is the natural way forward, though I am not sure how long it will last. I hope it becomes a norm.

I have had a great time as a model. We worked with some of the best in the business and the business treated us well. We didn’t need to do a side hustle to survive. Today, I feel the work of models is being shared by actors and other celebrities, so it affects the business of models. I wish models are treated fairly and duly paid. 


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