Event: British Textile Biennial 21

British Textile Biennial 2021 returns this year with new artist commissions, exhibitions and performances presented against the backdrop of the impressive infrastructure of the cotton industry in Pennine Lancashire. The Biennial runs from the 1st – 31st Oct 2021

This October, BTB21 turns its attention to the global nature of textiles and the relationships they create, both historically and now, with a major new commission by Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, fashion historian Amber Butchart as guest curator, a groundbreaking, sustainable fashion project with designer Patrick Grant and a collaboration with artist James Fox and actor Maxine Peake. The final element of the programme is announced with C.P. Company Cinquanta, a retrospective of the Italian Sportswear company’s 50th anniversary.

In line with celebrations for the brand’s 50th anniversary, C.P. Company will be taking part in the British Textile Biennial 2021 programme, presenting a retrospective dedicated to five decades of Italian Sportswear, and Massimo Osti’s lasting legacy. Taking place in Darwen, Lancashire, from 1 – 10 October, the display will feature exclusive C.P. Company archive pieces from throughout the label’s illustrious history.

An arrangement of activities will run alongside this exhibition, including student workshops and panel talks, which will include speakers from the brand, as well as respected names in sportswear and casual culture.

With an abiding interest in the history of textiles within both an African and European context, Turner Prize winner, Lubaina Himid will present a major new work responding to the Gawthorpe Textile Collection in Burnley, exploring the histories of industrialisation, female labour, migration and globalisation in the Great Barn at Gawthorpe Hall.

In the grandiose surroundings of Blackburn Cotton Exchange, three artists, Jasleen Kaur, Jamie Holman and Masimba Hwati interrogate complex issues through family histories and lived experiences across three continents to reveal the residual cultural identities of the British Empire. Over a six month period, the artists and curators have been in dialogue allowing themselves time to consider all aspects of their individual practices and presentation of their work together.  The resulting exhibition is the ‘mess’ of new cultures that has emerged as a consequence of colonisation, each artist revealing something of the personal in order to better understand, or make sense of the political.

In the beautiful Arts & Crafts interior of a former mill owner’s house, Haworth Art Gallery, Accrington, fashion historian Amber Butchart will present an exhibition with pieces chosen from the Gawthorpe Textile Collection. Through four fabrics – wool, linen, cotton and silk – this show, alongside a series of podcasts and related events both on and offline, explores the threads of imperialism, telling a myriad of stories of movement, migration and making through cloth.

In another former mill owner’s house in Rossendale, The 62 Group of textile artists presents an exhibition of contemporary textile art at The Whittaker, focusing on the global context of textiles. They aim to challenge viewers to consider the role that textiles play in all our lives and the many ways we find connection through cloth.

In the year marking the 90th anniversary of Gandhi’s historic visit to Darwen, Re-Thinking Khadi is a new work by Bharti Parmar that takes the textile archive of Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery as its focus, exploring how textiles, and specifically Khadi, might represent the ‘Black’ Indian body. The work stems from Parmar’s life-long interest in textile history and her personal narrative as the daughter of an Indian immigrant textile mill worker in Yorkshire and includes a film collaboration with award-winning, Blackburn-born film maker, Sima Gonsai.

Gandhi’s homespun philosophy is the inspiration behind Homegrown/Homespun; a collaboration with designer Patrick Grant, Super Slow Way and North West England Fibreshed. In Spring 2021 a field of flax and woad was planted on a piece of unused ground on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Blackburn, to be harvested and processed in the autumn and finally, spun, dyed and woven in Blackburn, to create the first pair of commercial homegrown and homespun jeans live in the town centre during the Biennial.

The tension between the industrialisation of cotton manufacturing and traditional cottage industry is the starting point for James Fox’s new work that explores the history of protest and punishment via the Lancashire loombreaker riots of 1826. The installation at Helmshore Mill includes James’ trademark hard-hitting embroideries and prints plus a new film collaboration with Maxine Peake presenting the tragic continuum of women’s experience of the criminal justice system over two centuries.

Reetu Sattar explores the contemporary tensions between traditional cultures in the Bangladeshi diaspora and the forces of modernity through the ever-evolving history of the cotton industry to be shown in Queen Street Mill, Burnley. An international artist based in Dhaka, this is a development of a body of work that began with a residency in Burnley in 2019.

Also in Queen Street Mill, Collateral, by Brigid McCleer presents a memorial to the hundreds of workers who die in factories and sweatshops across the world that supply the global garment industry. Made in collaboration with local embroiderers and inspired by a large-scale lace panel from the Gawthorpe Textile Collection commemorating the Battle of Britain, the work is a moving testament to the lives lost to feed the West’s seemingly bottomless appetite for fast fashion.

 Raisa Kabir presents work at Queen Street Mill as a continuation of her Art in Manufacturing residency, commissioned by The National Festival of Making and the Textile Biennial in 2020.  Inspired by The Textile Manufactures of India, an 18 volume set of fabric sample books assembled in 1866 by John Forbes Watson, a copy of which is held in the Harris Museum, Preston, Kabir worked at John Spencer Textiles in Burnley to create her own personal woven pattern designs that relate to collective imaginings of place and belonging in East Lancashire.

Emerging artist, Azraa Motala is creating a new series of painted portraits in a co-commission with The Harris, Preston where, as a young, aspiring artist she did not see herself represented on its walls. Unapologetic challenges the ongoing narrative of “otherness” and provides a platform for an overlooked community of young British South Asian women from Lancashire, too often invisible and unheard, whose painted portraits will be displayed in the Harris collection and reproduced on banners, hung on civic buildings in Preston, Blackburn, Pendle, Accrington and Burnley.

The Textile and Place conference explores the politics of textiles. Hosted by Manchester School of Art, in partnership with the British Textile Biennial, the conference builds upon the debates from the first Textile and Place conference which took place in 2018. Curated by Alice Kettle, it will be presented online with a programme of keynotes, panels, conversations and exhibitions from contributors including Maria Balshaw, Rosy Greenlees, Lubaina Himid, Amber Butchart, Hu RenRen and Peju Layiwola.

Click here for the full programme

With thanks to the Textile Biennial organisers and the artists for the text and photographs

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