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Slaves of fashion: New works by the Singh Twins

Artists Champion Ethical Trade and Consumerism Today Through Stories of Empire

Credit: Cotton: Threads of Change © The Singh Twins: www.singhtwins.co.uk
Credit: Cotton: Threads of Change © The Singh Twins

A new exhibition Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins, highlights current debates around ethical trade and consumerism through an exploration of the history of trade in Indian textiles as a global story of Empire, conflict, enslavement and luxury lifestyle that has modern day parallels.

This latest body of 20 works, which was featured recently on the BBC's Civilisations stories: The Empire, represents a fascinating new direction in the artists' creative practice - combining the traditional hand painted techniques for which they are known with digitally created imagery.

Eleven of these, featuring life sized portraits of historical figures on backgrounds packed with symbolic detail, are digital fabric artworks displayed on lightboxes. Each one highlights a different theme relating to the global story of trade in Indian textiles. Collectively they reveal not only the beauty, renown and craftsmanship of Indian fabrics but also the interconnected political, social and cultural significance of their histories.

One of these exceptional portraits, Cotton:Threads of Change, depicts key social, political, economic, technological and cultural changes linked to the story of cotton. It focuses on Lancashire as the centre of global cotton textile manufacturing and trade in an age of Empire and the Industrial Revolution driven by British interests during the 18th and 19th centuries to take over the lucrative consumer markets for Indian textiles.  Central to the composition is a portrait of the British born Indian Princess and leading Suffragette, Sophia Duleep Singh whose personal life connects to the complex narrative of cotton, as part of the wider story of trade in textiles and Empire built on conquest and enslavement.

A further 9 artworks in the Slaves of Fashion series are works on paper, which explore how historical narratives represented in the lightbox artworks connect to current debates around ethical trade and legacies of Empire. These include satirical portraits of politicians Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump which draw on the tradition of satirical cartoons. The King is Dead: Long Live the King (featuring Donald Trump, enthroned on a catwalk) explores how colonial attitudes and labour exploitation associated with the historical trade in cotton, lives on in today's fashion industry.

An audio visual poem by The Singh Twins offers a further, artistic response to the interconnected Slaves of Fashion themes. 

Also, on display, some of it for the first time, is material relating to the artists' creative process. Namely, original drawings and painted works, time-lapse videos and historical prints from The Singh Twins' personal archive. In addition, are highlights from over 30 objects from the collections of National Museums Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery that have informed the Slaves of Fashion series - including jewellery, historic costume, ceramics and books. Academic insights into some of these objects are provided by the University of Liverpool's Professor Kate Marsh, specialist in European colonial histories.

A unique feature of the exhibition is an augmented reality app, enabling visitors to interact with one of the lightbox artworks in detail through their mobile device. The app, titled SINGH TWINS: Art in Motion is available for free download on IOS and Android app stores as well as via The Singh Twins' website.

Marguerite Nugent, Wolverhampton Art Gallery Manager for Arts and Culture, said, 'The Singh Twins have a well deserved international reputation and we are delighted to have the opportunity to show their latest work in the City of Wolverhampton.

"It has been an exciting collaboration with The Singh Twins, National Museums Liverpool and Creative Black Country to work together and make this exhibition possible for locals, residents and other visitors to see."

The Singh Twins said: "A key aim of Slaves of Fashion is to reveal how historical trade practices, linked to colonialism, conflict and enslavement which are looked back on as unethical today, actually still continue.

"In relation to current debates around fair trade and sustainable consumerism the artworks highlight how we as consumers are all part of the problem but also the solution, since we have the power to effect positive change through the choices we make."

The exhibition runs at Wolverhampton Art Gallery from Saturday 21July until Sunday 16 September.

Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins exhibition has been shortlisted for the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards (ACTAs) 2018. This annual celebration of British Asian contribution to the arts, recognises exceptional achievement within a wide range of disciplines, including literature, film, television, theatre, poetry, music, photography, dance and the visual arts. Winners for this prestigious award will be announced at a gala ceremony in London today (22 June).

This exhibition is a collaboration between National Museums Liverpool, The Singh Twins and the University of Liverpool. Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins has been developed in partnership with Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The exhibition is sponsored by Investec Wealth & Investment.

  • released: Friday 22 June, 2018