Kids Corner

Images: © The Singh


Slaves of Fashion:
New Works by The Singh Twins





A new exhibition ‘Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins‘, highlights current debates around ethical trade and consumerism through an exploration of the history of trade in textiles from the South-Asian subcontinent as a global story of Empire, conflict, enslavement and luxury lifestyle that has modern day parallels.

This latest body of 20 works by contemporary British artists The Singh Twins - Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh - which was featured recently on the BBC’s ‘Civilisations stories: The Empire‘, represents a fascinating new direction in the artists’ creative practice, combining the traditional hand-painted techniques for which they are known with digitally created imagery.

Eleven of these, featuring life-sized portraits of historical figures on backgrounds packed with symbolic detail, are digital fabric artworks displayed on lightboxes. Each one highlights a different theme relating to the global story of trade in Indian textiles. Collectively they reveal not only the beauty, renown and craftsmanship of South Asian fabrics but also the interconnected political, social and cultural significance of their histories.

One of these exceptional portraits, ‘Cotton: Threads of Change‘, depicts key social, political, economic, technological and cultural changes linked to the story of cotton. It focuses on 18th and 19th century Britain as the global centre of cotton textile manufacturing and trade in an age of Empire and the Industrial Revolution, driven by British interests to take over the subcontinent’s lucrative textile industry. A trade which (as the artwork further depicts) was linked to the American Civil War through its dependency on slave grown cotton from Southern plantations. Central to the composition is a portrait of the British-born Sikh Princess and leading Suffragette, Sophia Duleep Singh whose personal life connects to the complex narrative of cotton, as part of the wider story of trade in textiles and Empire built on conquest and enslavement.

A further nine artworks in the Slaves of Fashion series are works on paper, which explore how historical narratives represented in the lightbox artworks connect to current debates around ethical trade and legacies of Empire. These include satirical portraits of politicians western leaders Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump which draw on the tradition of British satirical cartoons. One of these works titled, ‘The King is Dead: Long Live the King’ features Donald Trump, enthroned on a catwalk as the king of commerce and face of Neo-Imperialism. It explores how colonial attitudes and labour exploitation associated with the historical trade in cotton, lives on in the corporate world and fashion industry today. Another artwork titled, ‘Because You’re Worth It‘,  highlights the human and environmental cost of consumer demand for goods containing unsustainably produced palm oil, involving the mass destruction of Indonesia’s forests and workers’ rights abuses.

Included in the Slaves of Fashion series is a 20 minute large screen projection of an audio-visual poem by The Singh Twins which offers a further, artistic response to the interconnected Slaves of Fashion themes. 

Also, on display, some of it for the first time, is material relating to the artists’ creative process. Namely, original drawings and painted works, time-lapse videos and historical prints from The Singh Twins’ personal archive. Alongside these, are highlights from over 30 objects from the collections of National Museums Liverpool and Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK that have informed the Slaves of Fashion series - including jewellery, historic costume, ceramics and books. Academic insights into some of these objects are provided by the University of Liverpool’s Professor Kate Marsh, specialist in European colonial histories.

A unique feature of the exhibition is an augmented reality app, enabling visitors to interact with one of the lightbox artworks in detail through their mobile device. The app, titled ‘SINGH TWINS: Art in Motion’ is available for free download on IOS and Android app stores as well as via The Singh Twins’ website. 

Talking about their artwork The Singh Twins said, “A key aim of Slaves of Fashion is to reveal how historical trade practices, linked to colonialism, conflict and enslavement which are looked back on as unethical today, actually still continue. In relation to current debates around fair trade and sustainable consumerism the artworks highlight how we as consumers are all part of the problem but also the solution, since we have the power to effect positive change through the choices we make.”

Marguerite Nugent, Manager Arts and Culture at Wolverhampton Art Gallery said, “The Singh Twins have a well-deserved international reputation and we are delighted to have the opportunity to show their latest work in Wolverhampton.”

‘“It has been an exciting collaboration with The Singh Twins, National Museums Liverpool and Creative Black Country to work together and make this exhibition possible for locals, residents and other visitors to see.”

A  Slaves of Fashion symposium will be hosted at Wolverhampton Art Gallery on Saturday 18th August 10.00 am - 4 pm. The symposium brings together artists, art historians, activists, curators, and consumer industry experts to respond to, expand on, and debate contemporary themes emerging from the Slaves of Fashion exhibition.

Slaves of Fashion:New Works by The Singh Twins, which attracted over 100,000 visitors at its previous exhibition with National Museums Liverpool, was shortlisted for the Eastern Eye Arts, Culture & Theatre Awards (ACTAs) 2018.

This exhibition is a collaboration between National Museums Liverpool, The Singh Twins and the University of Liverpool. ‘Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins’ has been developed in partnership with Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

*   *   *   *   *

‘Slaves of Fashion: New Works by The Singh Twins’ runs at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, UK from 21 July until 16 September 2018.


The Singh Twins are London born British artists with an international reputation whose work has been cited by Professor Sir Simon Schama as representing “the artistic face of modern Britain”. Formal recognition of their contribution to contemporary art includes an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Art from the University of Chester awarded in 2015, as well as being awarded MBE’s in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2011.

Their latest artwork, ‘Rule Britannia: Legacies of Exchange‘, (commissioned by the Royal Collection Trust as a contemporary response to ‘Splendours of the Subcontinent’ exhibition, which includes ‘Four Centuries of South Asian Paintings and Manuscripts’ and ‘A Prince's Tour of India’ 1875–6) is currently on display at the Millar Learning Room, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 14 October 2018.

Like ‘Slaves of Fashion‘, the commission reflects The Twins’ ongoing interest to explore issues around shared heritage and identity which challenge generally accepted notions of cultural ownership and the perceived divide between East and West, past and present.

*   *   *   *   *

To download the free App ‘SINGH TWINS: Art in Motion’, please CLICK here.

To book FREE tickets for the ‘Slaves of Fashion‘ symposium on August 18, 2018, please CLICK here.   

For more information about The Singh Twins, please CLICK here.

July 22, 2018

Conversation about this article

Comment on "Slaves of Fashion:
New Works by The Singh Twins"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.