Issue 17 Debut (digital only)
Please note this issue is only available digitally
THE IDEA OF CHANGE frightens and fascinates. A few rare people manage to “change the world” in dramatic ways – Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Emmeline Pankhurst – but for most of us change for the better is a slow process. 2007 is the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. Many institutions are taking part in celebrations, the V&A is holding an exhibition featuring the work of El Anatsui among others. Key figures in the fight to end the shameful practice such as William Wilberforce (the subject of the new film Amazing Grace) are rightfully lauded but resistance occurred through all ranks of society. During the American Civil War the supply of cotton from southern slave plantations was severely restricted. Lancashire mills were closed but despite the hardships, cotton workers in Rochdale refused to handle slave-grown cotton. To thank them Lincoln sent food supplies, a rare surviving barrel is inscribed “I am one of the thousands that were filled with flour and sent by the Free States of America... to the starving people of Lancashire whose miseries were caused by the aggressive and civil war of the slave owners in 1862-3-4". The slaves themselves were not passive figures in the fight – they risked their lives to assert their humanity and spirit in many ways including art. The early quilters of Gees Bend refused to be cowed, and from them descendants of slaves and African American artists inherited a vibrant legacy. None have done it greater justice than quilter Rosie Lee Tompkins, pg 36, whose use of colour and composition is unparalleled. A playful celebration of colour and freedom was also captured on the streets of Bahia, pg 16, by Fedor Van der Valk in our photo story. And a welcome sense of pride and authority can be found in the traditional Fante Asafo Flags of Ghana, pg 96. There are those working in textiles whose conditions are still akin to slavery. Nelson Mandela once said “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” The links between textiles and slavery are numerous and surprising, it’s a history that can shock or inspire – and it’s one we should all learn.
Polly Leonard, Founder