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Exhibition links modern sweatshops to “brutal history” of cotton trade

A new thought-provoking free exhibition at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow this Autumn will explore the politics and morality of the textile industry and cotton trade from the 18th century to the present day.

Tangled Yarns is a specially commissioned show by Walthamstow-based artist Alke Schmidt and it will examine a different episode in the industry’s complex - and often brutal – history, combining fabrics with painting, stitch or print.

The exhibition looks at how the global cotton and textile trades form relationships between people on different continents. In the artists’ view, one person’s desire for fashionable clothes could mean another’s economic lifeline or escape from poverty – but it could also mean endless drudgery, exploitation or even slavery.

Leader of the Council, Chris Robbins said:

“This fantastic exhibition builds on the tension between the provocative subject matter and the delicate, decorative appearance of the artists’ work. Using different approaches, Alke Schmidt reveals how the trade is closely intertwined with issues of race and gender, exploitation and violence.

It’s an inspiring and stimulating exhibition, that will appeal to many people, especially in light of recent events such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh last year, which killed 1,138 garment workers and drew international attention to these issues.”

Every work incorporates a different fabric, chosen for its association with the story being told and used as a canvas, sculptural medium or object in itself.

The earliest story is of the violent campaign by English weavers against imported Indian cotton in the early 18th century, when gangs attacked women wearing patterned cotton gowns or petticoats. Elsewhere, classic Morris prints have been subverted to remind us how Morris & Co, through its supply chain, was linked to the cotton mills of 19th century Lancashire.


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