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 by Contemporary British artists The Singh Twins, which was featured recently on the BBCs 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 18th and 19th century Britain as the global centre of cotton textile manufacturing and trade in an age of Empire and the Industrial Revolution, driven by British interests to take over Indias lucrative textile industry. A trade which (as the artwork further depicts) was linked to the American Civil War through its dependency on slave grown cotton from Southern plantations. 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 nine 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 western leaders Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump which draw on the tradition of British satirical cartoons. One of these works titled, The King is Dead: Long Live the King features Donald Trump, enthroned on a catwalk as the king of commerce and face of Neo-Imperialism. It explores how colonial attitudes and labour exploitation associated with the historical trade in cotton, lives on in the corporate world and fashion industry today. Another artwork titled, Because Youre Worth It, highlights the human and environmental cost of consumer demand for goods containing unsustainably produced palm oil, involving the mass destruction of Indonesias forests and workers rights abuses.
Included in the Slaves of Fashion series is a 20 minute large screen projection of an audio-visual poem by The Singh Twins which 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. Alongside these, are highlights from over 30 objects from the collections of National Museums Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK 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 Liverpools 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