Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Fashion Statement: Modern Queens of the Indian Miniature Painting, the Singh Twins Take a Celebratory Look at Textile History and Expose Some Dark Untold Stories

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Fashion Statement: Modern Queens of the Indian Miniature Painting, the Singh Twins Take a Celebratory Look at Textile History and Expose Some Dark Untold Stories

Article excerpt

IN CONVERSATION, The Singh Twins embrace you with all the warmth and friendliness of your adventurous, well-travelled aunties who can talk for hours about anything and everything; and no one takes notice of the passing time. Yet mixed with their generosity of spirit is a formidable essence and creative wisdom that combines graphic expression with the written word--so that their picture equals 10,000 words. It's uncertain whether these two women, Amrit and Rabindra Singh, have naturally combined their twin energies to conjure a sum greater than their whole, or if this dynamism is the emanation of similar interests, education and complimentary approaches to deduction. Either way, imagine a world where Albert Einstein worked with his equally collaborative, deep-thinking twin.

The Twins dress identically, and as a "fashion" statement, in traditional Indian attire. Born in London, UK, the Twins are the children of Indian immigrants. Hearing stories of their family's history in a British colonized India, growing up outside of Liverpool, and experiencing their adolescent awakenings from a formative visit to India, the Twins' art packs a critical, cultural punch. When they talk about it, their sentences interweave: one starts, the other continues, then interjection--all in smooth symphonic form. The rich, rapid-fire commentary is as analytical as it is entertaining with surprising a-ha moments, and often deeply disturbing revelations of a past less-known. It's very much like looking at their paintings.

Brave, independent and sharp, the Twins in the mid-1980s revived the long-ignored art of miniature paintings. Their intricate masterpieces call out colonialism, consumerism and capitalism while imagining a better world.

The story of their latest exhibit begins with a piece of fabric they viewed in a French castle. It triggered a journey of discovery into the dark, complex history of the fashion industry across Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. "Slaves of Fashion" approaches the subject in two complimentary ways: a celebration of Indian textiles and how they were so desired the world-over, while also exposing the role of this trade in "being linked to something darker: conflict, empire, colonialism and slavery."

The journey began three years ago, when the Twins were invited on an exchange trip to Nantes, France. While on a tour of the slavery exhibit at Musee d'Histoire de Nantes (the Nantes History Museum) within Chateau des Dues de Bretagne, the Twins were shocked to find Indian-made textiles that were commissioned by France specifically to trade for slaves on the African market. They explained: "We hadn't realized the extent of India's involvement, knowingly or otherwise, because it's a very complicated story. But the point is that most people who think of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, think of it in the Western hemisphere the Americas, Europe and Africa. This really highlighted how it was a much more complex network of trade and how there were people far away in India who were unaware that they were supporting this awful establishment of trading people. It got us really interested in looking at that connection of India and slavery."

The next three years were consumed with research, writing and painting as the Twins explored the role that India played in the slave trade, unearthing all kinds of secrets in the history of the fashion industry and consumerism in general.

Alongside historical relevance, the Twins illustrate these themes in a modern context. That historical darkness exists in today's fashion industry. It's exacerbated by the secrecy and illusion of ethics in modern fashion.

But just as sustainability principles are being woven into, for example, food, education and energy, the articles that follow in this Lifestyle and Fashion section tell how ecological and social ethics are being woven into the local and global textile industry.

While each painting the Twins created for "Slaves of Fashion" highlights a particular place, kind of cloth or dye, the detail additionally illustrates how ideas were stolen, as well as issues of hidden identity and conflict. …

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