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We Are What We Wear

Performer: Kalamandalam Vijayakumar. Photo: Garry Laybourn.

The College’s Research Centre for Multicultural and Intercultural Performance is delighted to be collaborating with the Kala Chethena Kathakali Company as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded research project: We Are What We Wear

This historical project, kindly supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund [London], was instigated by Kathakali make up and costume specialist, Kalamandalam Barbara Vijayakumar.

The project aims to explore what the costumes of KATHAKALI, the classical dance drama of Kerala South West India, tell us about life in 17th century Kerala [when Kathakali emerged from the temple arts] and how they changed over the centuries.

The project will provide an opportunity to:

  • Examine how the clothes that people of Kerala wore in everyday life compared to the elaborate costumes that they created to express their spiritual beliefs.
  • Study how the traditional dress of Kerala can identify gender, religion, job & age.
  • Explore a time when Kathakali was supported by the kings, the priests and temples had great power within the community and highly skilled craftsmen devoted hours to creating images that were to represent the great Hindu gods.
  • Trace the historical journey that these costumes made from prosperity to decline. Kathakali was saved from extinction in the 20th century by the great poet Vallathol Narayana Menon with the foundation of the Kerala Kalamandalam.

The project will consist of:
A series of workshops in the Kathakali costumes, the symbolic meaning of the colours, conservation, the characters that they represent, how the characters move and relate to others in the Kathakali plays.
At Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance (Room LH002)

Thursday 27th and Friday 28th October (times to be confirmed).

Research to reveal:

  • How Kathakali actor, Kalamandalam Vijayakumar, brought Kathakali and the original costumes from his native Kerala to the UK.
  • What traditions the people of Kerala brought with them as they migrated to the Redbridge area and what they had to leave behind.
  • An exhibition of Kathakali costumes, and the result of the research, will be displayed at Redbridge Museum as a celebration of the people of Kerala. Young people will be encouraged to appreciate that the clothes they are wearing today will one day be history and illustrate that “WE ARE WHAT WE WEAR”.

This is a unique experience to explore a fascinating element of Kerala culture, and also to take part in a major research project.

Participation in the workshops is free, but numbers are strictly limited and subject to availability.

Please note that participants will be expected to attend both workshop days.

For RSVP and further enquiries, please contact Dr. Paul Fryer at:

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