Alke's work in this exhibition explores the politics and the morality of the textile industry from the 18th century to the present day. It has been and still is a very exploitative industry. It could have been a very confronting subject for art but the very decorative nature of most of Alke's work probably makes it too palatable for us. The artist gives us many links for us to do our own research on this industry, particularly in the fashion area. I will enter some of the links on this post.
The exhibition has been installed at the now defunct Cromford Cotton Mill at Matlock in Derbyshire.
A woman in an elegant ball gown is confronted by the women who have been responsible for the creation of this dress - "a US cotton plantation slave, a Lancashire weaving mill worker and a dressmaker". We know that the conditions for slaves in the US were inhumane. According to information given to us at the exhibition, the living conditions of Lancashire mill workers was deplorable and the dressmakers were paid a paltry amount for their labours.
The 'Calico Women' were English women who dared to wear dresses made from imported Indian printed cotton. Indian printed cotton became so popular that it impacted on the English wool and silk weavers. They ran such a violent campaign against women wearing these 'offending' garments that the government had to ban the import of Indian printed cottons. Why naked female bodies??? Attackers would strip women of their 'offending' garments. They would then burn the garments or throw acid on them.
This is Alke Schmidt's response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka in 2013. 1138 Bangladeshi workers were killed. Alke has used garments that she sourced in Walthamstow but they could well have been made in Bangladesh. She has also inserted a shalwar kameez, the traditional garment in South East Asia worn by the Bangladeshi garment workers.
This work is a memorial to the 400 workers who died in two fires in garment factories in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The work was inspired by an image of rows of abandoned sewing machines covered in ash in a small newspaper.
These are some of the links Alke Schmidt has given us on the garment industry today.