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The Singh Twins’ New Work

Indian textiles and the politics of global consumerism

A new exhibition Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins, will explore how the history of Indian textiles is a global story of Empire, conflict, enslavement and luxury lifestyle which has contemporary relevance – connecting to ethical trade and consumerism in the world today.

It will run at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool from 19 January until 20 May 2018. In particular, the exhibition will focus on the relationship between Britain and India to uncover hidden details of Europe’s colonial past and its legacies.

The exhibition comprises almost 20 new artworks by internationally-renowned artists The Singh Twins, whose Indian heritage has played a significant role in influencing their work, inspired by the ancient tradition of Indian miniature painting. The Twins’ art always tells a story and is rich in symbolism. Combining Eastern and Western traditions, their style uses artistic language from centuries ago to address a range of modern, social and political themes. At the heart of their work lies the desire to make a real difference.

In a new departure for The Singh Twins, most of the artworks in the ‘Slaves of Fashion’ series are mixed media – combining their traditional hand painted techniques with digitally created imagery. Eleven of these feature symbolic portraits of historical figures which will be displayed, life-size, as digital fabric artworks on lightboxes to reveal the full intricacy of their design and the eclectic, detailed, symbolic and narrative style for which The Singh Twins are renowned.

Each one highlights a different theme relating to India’s textile industry. Collectively they reveal not only the beauty, renown and craftsmanship of Indian fabrics but the political, social and cultural significance of their complex histories.

One of these exceptional portraits, ‘Indigo: The Colour of India’, tells the story of Indigo, which was used in India as a fabric dye for thousands of years. Known as ‘blue gold’, it was highly valuable and prized for its rich, deep shade and colour-fast qualities. This artwork features Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Emperor Shah Jehan, in whose memory the Taj Mahal was built in Agra, also a centre for indigo production. Queen Mumtaz wears blue denim jeans, commonly associated with modern western fashion and values. The artists challenge this idea, revealing the true origins of denim fabric in 16th-century India. Other details of the artwork show how Indigo was used as currency to buy enslaved people.

It is accompanied by an interactive augmented reality app, which will enable visitors to explore the creative processes and detailed stories behind the art, when they hold their mobile device up to the textile.

A further nine artworks in the ‘Slaves of Fashion’ series are works on paper. Through these, The Singh Twins explore how the relationship between trade, conflict, and consumerism in an age of Empire and colonialism, has modern day parallels and relevance to current debates around ethical trade and responsible consumerism. One of these works titled, ‘The King is Dead: Long Live the King’ (featuring Donald Trump, enthroned on a catwalk) explores how colonial attitudes and labour exploitation associated with the historical trade in cotton, continue on in today’s fashion industry.

Also included are 40 highlights from over 100 objects across National Museums Liverpool’s collection, which have inspired the exhibition.

The Singh Twins said: “Issues around shared heritage and identity which challenge generally accepted notions of cultural ownership and the perceived divide between East and West and past and present, have always been central to our art. Our aim in working with National Museums Liverpool collections for the ‘Slaves of Fashion’ series was to show how seemingly unrelated objects from different historical periods and cultures connect through the universal story of Indian textiles and remain relevant to diverse, modern audiences”.

On display from National Museums Liverpool will be jewellery, dresses, ceramics, books, paintings, Indian textiles and embroidery. Items which have been taken out of the stores include ‘Slave hanging by the ribs’, an engraving by artist and poet, William Blake which is also incorporated in The Singh Twins’ artwork, ‘Coromandel: Sugar and Spice, Not So Nice’.

Also from the stores is a bone china tea pot, cup and saucer hand-painted and made by Wedgwood.

A rare and delicate 18th -century book, ‘Deliciae Botinicae’ by Georg Dionysius Ehret features beautifully hand-painted watercolour images of flowers and plants, several of which have been referenced by The Twins in their ‘Slaves of Fashion’ series.

Sandra Penketh, Director of Art Galleries at National Museums Liverpool, said: “The Singh Twins work locally, but have a well-deserved international reputation. We are delighted to have the opportunity to show their latest work at the Walker Art Gallery. Their newest pictures are not only visually stunning but also intriguing and challenging at the same time.”

Nicola Scott, Exhibition Curator, Art Galleries said: “This is an exciting collaboration. Through The Singh Twins taking inspiration from our objects, we’ve rediscovered our own collections and been able to interpret them in a new and unexpected way. Visitors are going to see a diverse selection of artworks and objects from across our galleries in a new context, alongside The Singh Twins’ fascinating new artworks.

“It is an opportunity to explore the challenging issues behind some of the objects, connecting them in surprising ways to contemporary culture. It’s always a pleasure to share our collection more widely and give people the chance to see different pieces from our collections or our works afresh”.

The Singh Twins are British artists with an international reputation. They have each been awarded an MBE and an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Art in recognition of their unique contribution to contemporary art. For more information about The Singh Twins, visit
www.singhtwins.co.uk and www.facebook.com/thesinghtwins.

This exhibition is a collaboration between National Museums Liverpool, The Singh Twins and the University of Liverpool. Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins has been developed in partnership with Wolverhampton Art Gallery. The exhibition will tour to Wolverhampton Art Gallery from 21 July to 16 September 2018.

The exhibition is sponsored by Investec Wealth & Investment.

The app, developed by the artists in collaboration with Liverpool based immersive experience studio Draw & Code, is called ‘THE SINGH TWINS: Slaves of FashioN’ and will be available for free download on IOS and Android app stores from 1st January 2018.

For more information, visit www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/slavesoffashion.