Happy International Fair Trade Day.
I’m celebrating the day with a third visit to the Slaves of Fashion exhibition by the Singh Twins at The Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and it gets more fascinating and thought-provoking every time.
Amrit and Rabindra Singh are internationally acclaimed artists of Indian heritage who were born and raised in Liverpool (well, Wallasey).
Their exhibition, spanning over three rooms, is based around eleven artworks which are the perfect blend of brains and beauty; a striking combination of digitally created imagery and traditional Indian miniature hand-painting techniques.
The stories they tell are so much deeper than a few brush strokes of paint.
SLAVES TO FASHION
With bright colours and a blend of unblemished and subtle intricacies, they shed light on India’s colonial past whilst exploring the idea of Indian textiles and how they’re woven with threads soaked in political conflict, slavery and greed.
As I stood there bopping my head and tapping my toes to Parov Stelar, my face almost touching the artwork, scrutinising every millimetre, I was approached by a Hero called Leo.
Leo works at the gallery and had politely interrupted my interrogation to chat to me about the theme.
I love pretty much everybody who works or volunteers at a museum or art gallery, they’re always so friendly, helpful and excited to share their knowledge.
We talked about how the colourful, illustrative pictures can keep you entertained for hours and are such a clever vehicle for the much needed debate on consumerism.
The devil is literally in the detail.
THREADS OF CHANGE
One of my favourite and most thought-provoking pieces is Cotton, Threads of Change.
Cotton is one of the most widely used fabrics in the fashion industry and in its raw form is so deceivingly light, fluffy and pure. It’s anything but.
In fact, less than 5% of the world’s cotton is organic, the rest is genetically modified and sprayed with all kinds of poisons. It’s for this reason, and many others, that cotton is considered one of the dirtiest crops in the world.
In this artwork, the twins hone in on the impact of colonial policies on Indian textiles. Until the 18th century, India had produced finished cloth for home and export markets, but in the decades that followed the British Empire’s very own textile hub was born.
Cotton was sent to Lancashire where cheap, mass-produced fabric was made and sold back to India. The trade in India was destroyed while British factory workers also experienced exploitation and hardship.
Something I read not long ago about Farmer Suicides in India hasn’t left my thoughts since. Monsanto, a monstrous and somewhat satanic seed selling corporation basically monopolised the cotton market in India since the early 2000s.
Being the only source for seeds, they forced up prices. The farmers could no longer afford to keep their businesses going, so they had no choice but to take out loans from equally satanic money lenders at extortionate rates that would take lifetimes to repay.
As an act of protest, farmers began taking themselves out into their fields and drinking the pesticides before collapsing dead among their crops. India’s Farmer Suicides were the largest wave of suicides the world has ever seen. Between 2002 and 2006, the average was over 17,000 per year.
BECAUSE YOU’RE WORTH IT
Around the room are nine further artworks, hand painted miniatures with a few recognisable faces that explore today’s mindless consumerism and the political puppets encouraging it.
My eyes were glued to two pieces in particular, firstly ‘Because you’re worth it’ for its stand out slogan and clever depiction of a satanic creature riding an elephant made of global brand logos against a backdrop of environmental destruction.
And second, the incredibly shrewd ‘Eating off the same plate’ which portrays East and West Elite carving up a prime cut of ancestral land. The Indian government appears in the form of the tiger eating with the elephant, Indian symbol of wealth, which represents the corporate investor.
As the pair tuck in, the blood pours out onto the table from the meat-coloured globe. Your eyes are taken on a journey past the salt cellar of greed to the bill for their insatiable appetite; dispossession, poverty, conflict, livelihood, suicide, environment and food security all paid for by the poor.
Although not intended to be the stars of the show, they could well be. These meticulously detailed pieces bring our colonial past into the present and hold a mirror up to the faces inspecting them and you cannot disengage without a gut-wrenching desire to be better.
Squanderlust is a word I thought I invented myself but it turns out it’s already in the Urban Dictionary; That uncontrollable urge to spend massive amounts of money, even if you have to borrow it.
Things we like, Things we love, Things we don’t actually like that much, Things we don’t need, Things we leave the tags on, Things we can’t afford.
The best way to avoid this mindless consumerism is to question the need for the things your buying and where possible, don’t consume at all. But obviously we can’t just boycott life altogether. So for the things we do need, or truly want, we can at least be looking to buy Fair Trade.
Live fair, one Fair Trade product at a time