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Slaves of Fashion

Jan 29

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29/01/2018 13:47  RssIcon

New exhibition inspired by ethical consumption opens in Liverpool

 

A new exhibition ‘Slaves of Fashion’ by The Singh Twins opened in January and featured works based partly on research undertaken by Ethical Consumer. Tim Hunt asks them about their focus on consumption and colonialism, two of the exhibition’s major themes.

 

The Singh Twins, (Amirt and Rabindra) are known throughout the world for their elaborate hand-painted Indian-inspired works that mix the contemporary with the traditional.

Their latest exhibition, ‘Slaves of Fashion’, explores how the history of Indian textiles is a story of empire, conflict, enslavement and luxury western lifestyles and explores its relevance to ethical trade and consumerism today’s society.

In particular, the artists explore the relationship between Britain and India to uncover hidden details of Europe’s colonial past and its legacies.

 

'Because You're Worth It' from the 'Slaves of Fashion' series

The Singh Twins

 

 

What is the aim of your new exhibition?

As artists, we’ve always been interested in making connections between past and present – connections that reveal shared and often hidden histories which not only have contemporary relevance but which challenge our relationship with the world.

At the same time, we see ourselves as social and political commentators. So, from the outset we wanted to link the historical themes of our ‘Slaves of Fashion’ series to current debates around ethical trade and responsible consumerism – debates which we were drawn to personally and wanted to share with our audiences.

A core aim was to show how unethical trade practices of the past continue or have parallels in the present – in effect to encourage people to think about consumer responsibility by provoking the question: if modern society finds unethical trade practices associated with empire and colonialism unacceptable, then how can it allow similar practices to continue today?

 

 

Trade Wars Elizabeth from the 'Slaves of Fashion' series

The Singh Twins

 

 

How did you use Ethical Consumer's research to inform your work?

Ethical Consumer was a rich resource of information that initially inspired general themes for specific works in the 'Slaves of Fashion' series. These include works dedicated to ethical trade issues around palm oil production; supermarket price wars and labour exploitation; forced labour and controversial technologies associated with cotton; workers’rights within the fashion industry (such as the health and safety associated with sandblasting jeans and the Rana Plaza disaster); and corporate investment in areas of conflict.

Information about other organisations (such as War on Want and BDS Movement) involved in ethical consumerism campaigns, allowed us to cross reference information and make our artworks as factually correct as possible.

We found the revelations about palm oil particularly shocking. Not just because of the extent of environmental damage caused by palm oil production on so many levels – involving decimation of forests, air pollution and destruction of wildlife to the brink of extinction. But also, because of the human cost involving displacement of communities, labour exploitation and health risks.

The fact that so many products use palm oil, despite the high environmental and human cost, was horrifying as it revealed to us just how many companies today are prepared to put profits above the wellbeing of communities, workers and the planet.

 

 

The King is dead, Long Live the King’ from the 'Slaves of Fashion' series

The Singh Twins 

 

 

Can you see a direct link between colonialism and today's consumer society?

Empire building and colonialism was basically about seizing, controlling and exploiting human and natural resources (often by force) for commercial gain, centred on trade and motivated by consumer demand for ever more affordable commodities in a competing global market.

Some of the companies that benefited from trade through colonial activity still provide goods for consumers today. And colonial trade practices of ‘land grabbing’, crop control, and labour exploitation particularly by large multinational corporations also continues. Colonialism (in the case of India, for example), created impoverished countries that continue to provide cheap labour for producing low-cost, high-profit services and commodities.

Colonial geo-politics and policies of ‘divide and rule’ have left a legacy of conflict and communal tension which has led to forced migration, illegal settlement and oppression in regions across the globe, which have been linked to current day trafficking and labour exploitation.

What we hope audiences will take from the ‘Slaves of Fashion’ artworks is that, when it comes to unethical trade, past or present, consumers are part of the problem but also the solution.

 

 

Slaves of Fashion is at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and runs from 19 January until 20 May 2018.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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