‘Kuweni, the eternal woman’ – University of Moratuwa brings folklore to fashion

Thursday, 16th of June 2022

‘Folklore’ is a valuable source of knowledge that is rooted in human experience and continues to be orally transmitted among generations of people. Even today, ‘folklore’ possesses an important place in the history of society as an important and well-acclaimed module of exploring the cultural heritage of a nation. In Sri Lanka, which is a country with a lot of diversity in socio-cultural avenues, folklore plays a key role in identifying the relationships between different communities and their own rituals, customs, and beliefs.

Folklore has been explored by many creative industries such as music, film, drama, and visual arts, but was hardly used in the field of fashion design in Sri Lanka. Being a pioneer in innovative research, the University of Moratuwa has yet again started an impactful project that applies folklore in developing fashion and textile products by acknowledging the craft values that were inherited in Sri Lanka. The feelings and emotions in folklore are helping to create sensible fashion statements, complimenting new fashion trends such as storytelling and emotions in design.

Dr. SumithGopura, Dr. Ayesha Wickramasinghe, postgraduate (Ph.D.) candidate Shashiprabha Thilakarathne, and research assistant DilminiYasara from the Department of Textile and Apparel Engineering at the University of Moratuwa together with Prof.Alice Payne from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia are working on this research. The story of Kuweni, the main character of this research, is famous in Sri Lanka due to the story of Prince Vijaya’s arrival in the Mahavamsa. However, in folklore, Kuwenisymbolises different personalities such as an indigenous lady, a princess, a hermit, a beautiful maiden, a female warrior, a single mother, and a traitor.

“Kuweni” is portrayed as an eternal woman; one we have seen in the past, and present and will be witnessing in the future. Therefore, in many aspects, she can be identified as a reincarnation of women in everyday life. One important objective of this research lies in globalizing its findings--publishing academic papers and the dissemination of findings on international platforms and conferences-- to make local socio-cultural values go global. In addition to the folklore study on fashion, the team has been a part of several other creative practice-led research projects which are exploring the local tacit knowledge and craft traditions in the country.

Projects such as ‘Dreams of Weaving’, ‘Craft gettogether’, and ‘Reshaping the craftsmanship’ explore widening the horizon of the handloom weaving industry for fashion and beyond. As Sri Lanka is a country with a great legacy, bringing back the intangible cultural heritage of Sri Lanka to tangible forms helps to attract more opportunities for local arts and crafts traditions that eventually benefit the country’s economy. At the same time, the research team believes that this specific research on the folklore of Kuweni will be a model to define commercially viable emotional fashion through folklore.