SEMIO OBJECTS (2)

By: Hamsini Shivakumar
April 10, 2021

One in a series of 25 nonfiction narratives about semioticians’ significant objects. Presented to HILOBROW’s readers by Project:Object.

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SOUL MOTHER SAREES

There are sarees that we inherit from our mothers and sarees that we buy for ourselves. Silk sarees, especially, from Kanjeevaram have a life that spans several decades. Like many women of my generation, I have a full wardrobe of silk sarees, bought or received as gifts for various weddings, Diwalis, birthdays and anniversaries.

And then there are the sarees with special significance. Some years ago, one of my childhood friends gifted me her mother-in-law’s Pochampalli silk saree in her memory, after she had passed away. I had known her since I was thirteen, looked up to her and admired her immensely. She was very capable, deeply engaged with making the world better, widely travelled, very cosmopolitan yet rooted in Chennai and our Tamil Brahmin culture. She played all her roles of wife, mother, daughter-in-law, Zonta president, and mother-in-law with great ease and élan.

And then another friend did the same, when her mother passed away. While going through her mother’s things, she picked out one saree that belonged to her mother, that she wanted me to have in her memory. I had also admired my friend’s mother for the same reasons.

I have never worn these sarees. Somehow, it doesn’t feel right to wear them. Yet I have kept them safely and carefully and will cherish them for all the years to come. These sarees speak to me at many levels. They remind me of the strength of women of previous generations, who faced much tougher resistance to their assertion from conservative society at large and overcame them. They give me inspiration to continue the push for women’s equality in a society based on male privilege.

They remind me of the power of inter-generational relationships among women. There are the emotions attached to blood ties and personal ancestry. These are common and found among all. And then there are the soul connections among women of different generations, which give women roots and wings at the same time.

Finally, these are sarees of a design, colour, pattern and weave of previous time periods. Kanjeevaram sarees, like the diamond nose ring, are an identity marker of my community, the Tamil Brahmins, Iyers and Iyengars. Pochampalli sarees from Andhra Pradesh are part of South Indian heritage. While I am cosmopolitan by choice, I believe that without connection to our roots, who are we? These sarees remind me of the place that generations of Tamil Brahmin women have given to Kanjeevaram and Pochampalli silk sarees, to express their sense of dignity, personality and identity.

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SEMIO OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Chris Arning on INKSTONE BROOM | Hamsini Shivakumar on SOUL MOTHER SAREES| Lucia Laurent-Neva on SPONGEBOB BUS | Samuel Grange on SALT & PEPPER HOLDER| Ximena Tobi on VASALISA | Luca Marchetti on TEAPOT | Charles Leech on ORNAMENT| Gabriela Pedranti on MAFALDA DOLL | Sarah Johnson on JOAN OF ARC FIGURINE | Vijay Parthasarathy on BINGO | Aiyana Gunjan on WEDDING DUCKS | Serdar Paktin on NEY | Paulina Goch-Kenawy on VASE | Daria Arkhipova on POKER CHIP | Iván Islas on THERMOS| Sónia Marques on CABBAGE TUREEN | Thierry Mortier on BICYCLE BELL | Louise Jolly on CHALICES | Wei Fen Lee on CURRY PUFF POT | Mariane Cara on MINI WINDSOCK | Malex Salamanques Amiel on MARIA LIONZA | Seema Khanwalkar on THANJAVUR DOLL | Maria Papanthymou on KITCHEN WHISK | Martha Arango on ST. ANTHONY OF PADUA | Max Matus on WOODEN ROBOT.

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MOVIE OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Ramona Lyons on EYE OF THE SERPENT (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) | Faythe Levine on BEDKNOB (BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS) | Gerald Peary on CUP OF COFFEE (THE BIG HEAT) | Christopher Orr on TOM’S HAT (MILLER’S CROSSING) | Lynn Peril on TRANSISTOR RADIO (DR. STRANGELOVE) | & 20 MORE.

LOST OBJECTS (vol. 2): INTRODUCTION | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | & 20 MORE.

FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.

FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | & 20 MORE.

FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.

LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.

ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.

TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.

POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.

SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020) | SEMIO OBJECTS series (2Q2021). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.

Categories

Codebreaking, Semiotics

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