Everytime I alight at Lower Parel station and walk towards my office, the high-rise buildings hover over my head. Often, my thoughts sink into the 1990s era where much shorter mills stood, fully functional, spinning cotton, creating bundles and bundles of fabric and keeping the Bombay communities employed.
Starting today, at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum, Byculla, Social Fabric — an exhibition in collaboration with Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva), London and supported by the Goethe Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai — opens.
The event — curated by Grant Watson, senior curator and research associate, Iniva and Tasneem Mehta, managing trustee and honorary director, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum — had us intrigued.
Having worked on textile projects earlier, Grant was keen on looking at the relationship between Britain and India shared through textiles. He roped in German artist Alice Creischer and Indian artist Sudhir Patwardhan. “Tasneem and I worked on the archival display and created this exhibition. Divided into two parts, the first archives have the trading cotton and the sample books that British merchants took home.
The display also includes an original decree of the trade, samples that were exported from India and mill labels,” explains Grant. The second archival display focuses solely on Lower Parel dominated by textile mills in the ’90s. Patwardhan’s work, Lower Parel (2001) is an acrylic on canvas painting and depicts Girangaon, the village of mills.
“Patwardhan’s artwork reflects a lot of elements, a kind of artwork that can engage viewers. You see the old mills; high rises growing out of them, the mill workers, and their descendents, etc,” says Grants, adding that architectural drawings of mills are also on display.
Through textiles, Social Fabric highlights the labour, capitalism, colonialism, radical politics and international trade of that era. The exhibition refers to Karl Marx’s account of boom and bust in the industry and its effects on workers in Britain and India.
Creischer’s installation weaves appliquéd beads, letters, buttons, gold foil, textile panels, hand-written and embroidered texts, cut paper, and black and white photos to resemble a measuring instrument or optical device mounted on metal tripods. It is titled ‘Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the pressure of wealth during the contemplation of poverty’.
The work is inspired by the overwhelming demand for cotton in England that led to the Spitalfields protest of 1719 and their implications on the British colonies, especially India. “It was important for me, as a European to study both countries and the textile industry. I am deeply touched by the history of the famine, because, today, we are facing a similar situation globally,” Creischer smiles into the phone.
The exhibition features other artworks by artists such as Archana Hande and UK-based artist Celine Condorelli. Says Mehta, “On display are items from the museum’s reserve collection. The collection of different textiles by Dr Forbes Watson is something viewers will not get to see often.”
>>Workshops for schoolchildren based on the exhibition
>> Guided tour of Social Fabric, every Sunday
>> Film screenings, performances and talks
>> For the schedule, log on to www.bdlmuseum.org