COTTON: Global Threads, the Whitworth Art Gallery’s contribution to London 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World, aptly fulfils its brief. Ranging from Egyptian textiles to contemporary installations, the exhibition tells a universal tale of the production of cotton, and the effects of its consumption, trade and disposal. In contrast to Manchester’s February misty gloom, COTTON is vibrant and fresh, displaying an innovative take on the cotton industry, and interacting with the public both intellectually and physically.
Yinka Shonibare, commissioned for this exhibition, creates a powerful centrepiece to the work, incorporating his trademark headless wax mannequin. The headless figure, tenuously perched on a globe, evokes much questioning as to his identity. He may merely be defined by his suit, adorned by African patterns. Such a message passes through the entire body of work, displaying geographical hybridity.
To add another dimension, Liz Rideal’s work entices the passer-by, using LED lighting and projected film on fluid material, illuminating the windows of the gallery at dusk. Her work, incorporating her habitual combination of textiles and projection, transforms regular processes, such as a video of the production of cotton, into a seductive image, questioning preconceptions. Similarly, Grace Ndiritu’s four videos integrate fabric, creating provocative images by wrapping her body; drawing attention to silhouettes and the sexual privacy of fabric.
On a more interactive level, COTTON promotes the work of textile students, encouraging the public to try on pieces of work. There was also an energetic children’s workshop in full progress, which I, admittedly, was mightily jealous of.
Therefore, it can be said that the exhibition has something for all aspects of society. Whereas there are museum-esque collections, historically tracking the production of the fabric, conceptual art added another level to the work, displaying much to be explored.