COTTON: Global Threads – a major new exhibition in Manchester, UK. 11th Feb – 13th May 2012

Boy on Globe 4 (detail)

Yinka Shonibare, MBE. Boy on Globe 4 (detail)

Although just about everyone on the planet wears an article of cotton each day, the story of cotton is far from every day. It spans centuries and continents, was the catalyst for some of the most important moments in modern history and exposes a multitude of ethical sins.

Anne Wilson, Local Industry Cloth, (detail), 2010. Collection of Knoxville Museum of Art.

Anne Wilson, Local Industry Cloth, (detail) 2010. Donated mill fibre. Knoxville Museum of Art

A new exhibition, COTTON: Global Threads will tell this story, giving a global history of the production, consumption and trade in cotton. New commissions by contemporary artists including Yinka Shonibare and Lubaina Himid will be shown alongside historic pieces from the late Middle Ages to the present day, exploring how cotton’s history touches on economics, science and technology, slavery, fashion and popular culture. Continue reading

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Unmissable COTTON-Picking talk

Thursday 26th April, don’t miss the opportunity to hear a fascinating talk by Anna Arabindan-Kesson. Arabindan-Kesson is a History of Art and African-American studies academic travelling from Yale University, USA to discuss issues around the representation of cotton production in the States.

Winslow Homer, 'Cotton Pickers' (Detail)

The talk, programmed to accompany the current Whitworth exhibition COTTON: Global Threads is entitled Networks of Labour: Representing Cotton in Nineteenth-Century America. The talk will examine some of the ways that representations of cotton were shaped by the creation of labour networks between different spaces, such as the relationship between the plantation and the factory.

Entry is free and includes a complimentary glass of wine after the talk.

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COTTON: Global Threads Olympic Weave Race

Curator Dr Jennifer Harris reveals details about an upcoming special event at the Whitworth Art Gallery

Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st April, 11am – 4:30pm and Sunday 22nd April, 12 -4pm   

Looms at the ready!

Join artist weaver Travis Meinolf in a three-way weaving race that will take place over four hours each day, totalling 20 hours race time.

No experience is necessary, sign up to weave at the gallery, and hopefully everyone will get a chance to join the race. Teams will be made up of volunteer weavers representing three different economic philosophies. Weave Racers will declare their team affiliation and sign up on the roster provided, then weave at the appropriate loom for whatever time they can give or until the end-of-day bell sounds.

The three teams are: The Capitalists, The Socialists, and The Artisans. The destination of the cloth they produce during the race will be different in each case.

The length of the three cloths will be measured at the end of the fifth day and Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals awarded to each ideology as appropriate, in a short ceremony.

Continue reading

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Action weaver looms large

All at the Whitworth are looking forward to seeing the results of Travis Meinolf’s specially commissioned Action Weaving sessions coming up soon for COTTON: Global Threads.

The artist, hailing from San Francisco and now living in Berlin, has been in the gallery in Manchester building his looms and will be working with the public during action weaving events starting Wednesday April the 18th. Come along if you can to participate in one of the free sessions, no booking is required, learn to weave and take part in a weaving ‘race’! There will also be an adult programme  After Hours evening inspired by Meinolf’s work.

See below for some snaps of Travis preparing his looms in the gallery! Continue reading

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In conversation with Grace Ndiritu

A conversation with Grace Ndiritu Artist Grace Ndiritu discusses her work in the exhibition and her wider practice with curator Dr Jennifer Harris.

Recorded at a public event to accompany the exhibition COTTON: Global Threads at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester. (Approx 46 mins.)

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COTTON: Global Threads for Educators

The COTTON: Global Threads exhibition introduces visitors to a number of complex issues and human stories told through a wealth of beautiful, fascinating historical objects and thought-provoking contemporary artworks in a range of media. The Whitworth’s Learning and Interpretation team is here to support learning and discovery through resources, and a range of tours, development days and more, created for your group to get the most out of your visit. Bespoke practical workshops can also be arranged (a fee is payable for these.)

Browse the free Educators’ resource below for KS3 – KS5 students, teachers and lecturers for lots of ideas for discussion and further exploration.

For information on the education services the Whitworth provides, or to book a group visit, please contact Denise Bowler, telephone 0161 275 8455 or email

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Focus on: Indian Textiles

In this audio piece we focus on Indian textiles in COTTON: Global Threads. Curator Dr Jennifer Harris discusses the large scale Tipu’s Tent, presented as part of a range of textile treasures highlighting India’s considerable contribution to the history of cotton and global trade. Juxtaposed with this is contemporary work by Liz Rideal, whose fascination with the textiles of India leads her to use Indian fabrics both as inspiration and raw material to create the artworks on display.

Audio recorded at the Whitworth Art gallery. Featuring one image of Tipu’s Tent © National Trust, England & Wales – Powis Castle, Powys. Other images © Liza Lemsatef Cunningham,

Tipu Sultan’s Tent

The tent was created for Mughal ruler Tipu Sultan Sahib of Mysore around 1725-50. The entire tent is rectangular and was originally used as a mobile residence whilst advancing in his territories. The exterior as was common at the time is plain, but the interior is cotton chintz, richly decorated with a process of printing, painting and resist-dying. It features floral motifs in red and green, cleverly created by overpainting indigo blue with yellow dye.

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Textile sample books as inspiration

The Textile Manufactures of India Vols I, II, V & VII (1866)

A selection of Indian sample books by John Forbes Watson are on display in the Gulbenkian Gallery at the Whitworth. The volumes entitled The Textile Manufactures of India are part of the complex history of cotton and its global trade.

The Textile Manufactures of India

The Textile Manufactures of India

The books, containing annotated fabric samples, were compiled and disseminated to aid the Victorian textile industry, whose centre was based in Lancashire. By studying the sophisticated and harmonious patterns of South Asian textiles, the aim was to understand the market’s taste, replicate the fabrics cheaply using mechanized manufacturing techniques, and trade back to them, thus undercutting Indian hand woven fabrics. The Victorian urge to catalogue and create taxonomies, extended to fabrics here, arguably may have preserved otherwise lost patterns, even though to create the books Forbes Watson cut up many museum specimens.
Continue reading

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Focus on: Yinka Shonibare

Curator Dr Jennifer Harris discusses Yinka Shonibare‘s piece, specially commissioned for COTTON: Global Threads. Shonibare’s work is synonymous with Dutch wax print fabrics and notions of hybridity, history and identity. Harris explains how his work elegantly articulates some major themes in the exhibition, making his intriguing figure something of a ‘poster boy’ for the show.

Recorded in the Whitworth Gallery with Liza Lemsatef Cunningham.

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Focus on: Abdoulaye Konaté

Curator Dr Jennifer Harris introduces the work of Abdoulaye Konaté featured in COTTON: Global Threads.

This Malian artist works with cotton and found objects to create beautiful large scale meditative pieces. Konaté tackles themes of genocide referencing traditional techniques with powerful sociopolitical messages.

Audio recorded in situ at the Whitworth Art Gallery with Liza Lemsatef Cunningham. Photos ©

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Change of date – In conversation with Grace Ndiritu

Artist Grace Ndiritu

Artist Grace Ndiritu

Please update your diaries! Grace Ndiritu, the artist currently exhibiting her ‘video paintings’ as part of COTTON: Global Threads, will be visiting the gallery to discuss her work with the exhibition’s curator, Dr Jennifer Harris.

The event has had to be rescheduled (apologies if this affects your plans!) from the 22nd to the new date – it is now on Friday 23rd of March, at the Whitworth Art Gallery.

No need to book, but come along if you can to this free event. Refreshments will be served from 6pm, for a 6:30pm start.

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