One of my highlights for October 2021 was visiting the British Textile Biennial in Lancashire. I was fortunate enough to dedicate a whole weekend to doing nothing else but visit most of the exhibitions. In photographing and recording each exhibition I was able to reflect upon my own highlights which very much correlated with those highlighted within the event and exhibition literature. Indeed, the accompanying exhibition literature was of such a quality that it has been marked as the standard to aspire to for my own forthcoming exhibitions next year.
The British Textile Biennial highlighted how and why the mass production of cloth on a global, industrial scale has become unsustainable, economically, socially, and environmentally and the increased need for different relationships with textiles to be developed, promoted, and reinforced. Lancashire was once the home of the textile industry, but it has since disappeared. By 2023 it is hoped that homegrown clothing production locally can be increased by Community Clothing as a step towards more sustainable clothes manufacturing.
One of my favourite exhibitions was called Homegrown/Homespun and involved Community Clothing, which was centred upon community involvement as one of the local neighbourhoods of Blackburn came together to use disused land to grow and manufacture linen cloth. For over 128 days this neighbourhood became a collective as they planted, grew, nurtured, and harvested a half-acre of flax. It was then flipped, dried, retted and hand processed into fibre which was collected by one of the few remaining linen manufacturers in Britain to spin this into yarn, to enable it to be dyed and woven into linen locally.
These three artists explored the complexities of cultural identity through family histories and lived experiences across three continents to reveal the enduring legacies of the British Empire. Walking into The Exchange and central hall the space was filled with creative approaches to challenge positively and make known what is meant by identity, of cultural diversity, and meaning from experiencing within and out with this country.
Jasleen Kaur (2021) Sociomobile. This artists affinity with objects has been realised on a monumental scale to highlight the conflicts, challenges, sensitivities, and brilliance of a multi-layered identity. Jasleen Kaur was brought up in a Sikh Punjabi household in Glasgow and her creative practice represents a continual untangling of the labels she lives and are afforded to her with a sense of ongoing lack of resolution. The 1980’s Ford MKII Escort took centre stage as a much desired object and was coveted by her family while the crochet doily represented success in the homes of her grandparents. These objects were often assimilated by many migrant workers who came to work in the textile and automobile industries.
Jamie Holman (2021) Colonial Amusements. The artist reflected upon the term ‘Colonial Amusements’ as located by a Lancashire gambling arcade. He interrogated how entertainment, culture and sport hold the power of attraction and distraction, and their contrary co-existence alongside violence and conflict. Such themes led back to colonial catalysts via the cotton mills of Blackburn. He explored the founding of the football league by mill workers and the evolution of terrace culture, identity and clothing. This artist reflected upon the tensions within young people engaged in war and violence alongside those of warring factions within football.
Lifting photographs from texts from his fathers young life, Masimba Hwati considered his own and his fathers ‘reinvention of self’. Placing himself in the frame, using props, clothes and sets, he emulates and reinvents the images he has of his father in different guises using second hand clothing. This artist sought to investigate how colonisation and liberation, shapes identities and behaviours of nations and individuals.
Azraa Motala, Visual Artist and her accomplished exhibition “Unapologetic” was based at the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery. Azraa Motala explored the inherent political nature of being a woman of colour as such identities have been stigmatised and born out of negative attitudes towards immigration and religion, which have been further fuelled by the media as well as others narratives. This exhibition sought to challenge the rhetoric of “otherness” for an often overlooked community of young British South Asian women in Lancashire.
In the year marking the 90th anniversary of Gandhi’s historic visit to Darwen, Khadi is an ambitious new installation by Bharti Parmar comprising archival images of the Mahatma’s visit, artefacts from Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery and delicate drawings and sculptures made from Khadi paper. Khadi refers to homespun cloth promoted by Gandhi as a protest about English rule in India. It also refers to a thick cotton watercolour paper made by hand in India. The artist has sourced Khadi paper from India made from recycled cotton t-shirts to reveal themes of global connections, fast fashion, labour and colonialism. The work stems from Parmar’s life-long interest in textile history and her personal narrative as the daughter of an Indian immigrant textile mill worker in Yorkshire and includes a film collaboration with award-winning, Blackburn-born film maker, Sima Gonsai.