Social Fabric looks at three centuries of the global textile industry at Rivington Place

By Mark Sheerin | 26 January 2012
Paintring of a textile mill in an Indian city
Sudhir Patwardhan, Lower Parel (2001)© Sudhir Patwardhan
Exhibition: Social Fabric, Iniva at Rivington Place, London, until March 10 2012

While drapery is an essential aspect of the history of Western art, the whole textile industry here emerges as a fundamental part of Western history. Iniva presents a show devoted to the manufacture, of not the depiction of cloth.

As visitors are soon reminded, none other than Karl Marx documented the rise and fall of the cotton mills in Britain and the colonies. So this soft material gives rise to several hard topics: labour, capital, trade and radical politics.

It also binds together the histories of East London and India, as chintz from the colonies led to protests among the weavers of Spitalfields. Globalisation had its discontents as early as 1719.

Considering this background, the archive material in Social Fabric promises to be as interesting as the art. But two notable artists do also figure here: the political German theorist Alice Creischer and the India painter Sudhir Patwardhan.

Expect an installation by the former with the unwieldy title Apparatus for the Osmotic Compensation of the Pressure of Wealth during the Contemplation of Poverty. And look out for painting of a mill village in the vicinity of the latter's hometown Mumbai.

One third of the city’s inhabitants were working in textiles as recently as the 1970s; a decade later mills began to close. But potential superpower India has clearly recovered from its dependence on the spinning wheel.
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