Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh TwinsWalker Art Gallery
Donald Trump sits on a Wal-Mart throne at fashion week; he is the epitome of consumerism, the King of Cotton. Theresa May straddles India and the USA, dousing the former in scotch whiskey. Bush and Blair shake hands, smiling; they make a blood pact while the globe they stand on burns.
SLAVES OF FASHION is the latest exhibition by THE SINGH TWINS to grace the Walker Art Gallery, and it is just as politically engaging and controversial as I had hoped. The Singh Twins are known for their unflinching criticism of political corruption, and, in this exhibition, they choose the Indian textile industry and its relationship with western fashion as their subject. There is an important history lesson here, but their contemporary and satirical approach ensures that this remains a highly enjoyable and accessible exhibition.
In recent years, The Singh Twins – Amrit and Rabindra Singh – have received international recognition for their work. However, their relationship with the art world and this city has not always been straightforward. While at the University Of Liverpool, the twins faced prejudice for their interest in Indian miniature painting, which was deemed traditional and outdated by their professors. Certain members of the department were reluctant to accept that non-European artforms had influenced contemporary, western art. The Singh Twins refused to concede and never graduated. The success of this exhibition thus feels particularly pertinent.
At the centre of Slaves Of Fashion are 11 large, mixed-media portraits of historical figures. Each tells the story of a different aspect of the Indian textile industry, and reveals the human cost behind luxury goods. In Coromandel: Sugar And Spice, Not So Nice a slave hangs from a tree, barely visible behind the rich detail and fabrics that dominate the image. In other paper works, The Singh Twins explore this continuing colonial legacy, which is now manifested in unethical consumerism. The title of one piece, The Adoration Of Profit Without Consequence, could sum up the entire exhibition, and is a stark reminder of our role in this deadly trade.
Though the subject matter of this exhibition is challenging, the aesthetic appeal of The Singh Twins’ work is undeniable. They have revived the Indian miniature tradition by including modern symbols and themes, creating a unique style that they label ‘past modern’. The intricate detail and eclectic mix of political references means you could spend hours decoding a single painting. It is perhaps symbolic that I am initially drawn to their work for its beauty; only upon closer inspection do I realise that they are telling a painful story.
Slaves Of Fashion is a must-see for anyone interested in colonial history, traditional Indian art or political satire. Most of all, this is a chance to learn more about two fascinating women of colour artists, who stuck with their interests despite condemnation and discouragement. Their success story is truly inspiring.
Slaves Of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins runs at Walker Art Gallery until 20th May.