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April 09, 2018

The Singh Twins’ Latest Exhibition Uses Indian Textiles To Link The Past To The Present

Text by Huzan Tata

The acclaimed artist duo’s ‘Slaves Of Fashion’ explores the story of Indian textiles through the lens of history

One look at their canvases, and you’ll be enthralled for hours, noticing the intricate details and several stories hidden in one artwork – such is the beauty of The Singh Twins’ creations. Their new exhibition Slaves Of Fashion – that binds together themes of consumerism, ethical trade, luxury and environmental issues – explores history and fashion, spotlighting the connection between the making of Indian textiles and slavery.

“The fact that India traded both goods and slaves, something that is commonly associated with the Western hemisphere, was both a shock and a revelation to us. We were inspired to find out more and discovered how the history of Indian textiles mirrors the global story of slavery, fashion and luxury lifestyle,” say the duo on the genesis of the show. From chintz and phulkari to cotton and indigo, the series takes a close look at the making of these textiles and materials, using images of famous females from history to further enhance each artwork. Made both by hand and through digital imagery (each piece took several hundred hours to complete) the works in this exhibition celebrate the best, and the worst, of fashion.

Singh twins speak:

On the title “It’s a reflection of how, in our modern, materialistic, commodity-driven society, we are all ‘slaves to fashion’ – largely buying into current trends, services and goods without thinking of or even being aware of the negative human and environmental cost. As such, it enabled us to convey the connections between past and present.”

On portraying females through time “Our research revealed that, since time immemorial, women have played a significant role in the history, culture and politics of trade surrounding the story of Indian textiles. At the same time, we were mindful that 2018 marked 100 years of voting rights for women in Britain. We wanted to commemorate this important event through this new series.”

Favourite fashion eras “This would have to be the Indian Mughal and the British Tudor periods because of their spectacular court fashion. The clothes were absolutely exquisite and the attention to detail was second to none – not to mention the fabulous jewellery that went with them!”

Message to viewers “A key aim was to show how the present-day exploitation of human and natural resources driven by consumerism is similar to imperialist capitalism. We wanted to provoke the question: if modern society finds trade practices associated with colonialism morally unacceptable, then how can it allow similar practices to continue today? Ultimately, we hope viewers are encouraged to think more about their responsibilities as consumers and how (through their buying power) they can affect positive change, ensuring better protection for workers and the environment alike.”

Slaves Of Fashion is on display at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool until May 28, 2018 and will tour throughout the year.

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