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Tangled Yarns – exploring the politics of the textile supply chain through time Alke Schmidt

28 Jul 2016

Join us for this free event. Artist Alke Schmidt and curator and Manager of the William Morris Gallery Anna Mason will discuss the exhibition Tangled Yarns which explores the socio- economic impacts of the textile industry past and present and reveal how the industry is intertwined with issues of race and gender, exploitation and violence.

  • Venue

    Stuart Hall Library

  • Time


  • Admission


Ghost 2014 (detail) - Alke Schmidt

An audio recording of the event is available at the bottom of the page

The earliest story is that of the violent campaign by English weavers against imported Indian cotton in the early 18th century, when gangs attacked women wearing patterned cotton gowns or petticoats. Elsewhere, classic Morris prints have been subverted to remind us how Morris & Co, through its supply chain, was linked to the cotton mills of 19th century Lancashire. Recent events explored by Schmidt include the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building, which killed 1,138 Bangladeshi garment workers.

Alke Schmidt’s show was commissioned by the William Morris Gallery, toured to Cromford Mills and will open at the People’s History Museum next year. Each piece incorporates a different fabric, chosen for its association with the story being told and used as a canvas, sculptural medium or object in itself. Schmidt deliberately cultivates the tension between the works’ provocative subject matter and their delicate, often decorative, appearance. Rather than presenting a definitive political statement, she invites us to consider the contradictions and ambiguities of a trade that spans centuries and every part of the globe.

Alke will share some of the research which inspired the artworks and Anna will talk about the show and the gallery’s work with contemporary artists including Lucille Junkere’s residency All Blues which explored the complex and often painful history of natural indigo dye; and the touring show Social Fabric, an exhibition of east and south African printed textiles that includes work by contemporary artist Lawrence Lemaoana and fashion designer Christine Mhando. The talk would also touch on the Gallery’s plans to collaborate with partners in India to explore William Morris’s interest in Indian textile traditions.


Anna Mason: Curator and manager of the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, London, Anna initiated the contemporary art programme at the Gallery in 2012. The Gallery is housed the childhood home of the radical Victorian designer and activist William Morris. The internationally-renowned collection includes designs, textiles, stained glass, furniture, ceramics and manuscripts.

Alke Schmidt: London-based visual artist with over 12 years experience of exhibiting in the UK and internationally. Her art practice is an ongoing exploration of the subversive potential of art’s aesthetic dimension. Fusing the roles of the artist as maker and critical citizen, she aims to use the aesthetic qualities of my works to challenge social and environmental injustices.