British Textile Biennial 2021 – across Pennine Lancashire

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor
British Textile Biennial 2021 – across Pennine Lancashire
Reetu Sattar, Queen Street Mill, British Textile Biennia. Photo by Richard Tymon

British Textile Biennial at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Blackburn, 1–31 October 2021, free entry - Visit now

Taking place across Pennine Lancashire, the British Textile Biennial’s second edition features an impressive list of headliners – including Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, fashion historian Amber Butchart, fashion designer Patrick Grant, and actor Maxine Peake. Set within the historic heartland of the cotton industry, the festival is turning its attention to the global nature of textiles, and the thick and fibrous web of transatlantic connections engendered by their production, both past and present.

The daughter of a textile designer, Himid’s practice has long been threaded by an interest in the history of textiles in both African and European contexts. Acting as a centrepiece to the festival, her BTB commission will take the form of a major new work responding to the Gawthorpe Textile Collection in Burnley, exploring the histories of industrialisation, female labour, migration and globalisation.

Lubiana Himid

The always impeccably dressed Butchart (who many may know from BBC’s A Stitch in Time) will delve into the murky waters of imperialism, telling a myriad of stories around movement, migration and making through cloth. The curated exhibition of objects from the Gawthorpe Textile Collection will be presented at Haworth Art Gallery (a former mill owner’s house) alongside a series of podcasts and on and offline events.

Peake has collaborated with Lancaster-based textile artist James Fox on a new film exploring the tragic continuum of women’s experience of the criminal justice system over two centuries. The piece will be presented at Helmshore Mill alongside a new installation by Fox that draws upon the history of protest and punishment via the Lancashire Loombreaker riots of 1826.

Prison lino print, James Fox

The daughter of an Indian immigrant textile mill worker, Yorkshire-based artist Bharti Parmar will channel her life-long interest in textile history into a new work that explores how textiles, and specifically khadi, might represent the Black Indian body. Khadi is a hand-spun and woven natural fibre cloth, the term for which was coined in 1918 by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle of the Indian subcontinent.

Gandhi’s homespun philosophy (which counselled that self-rule could only be achieved for India if the country became self-sufficient and that citizens should therefore take up spinning and wear only home-spun clothing) is also the inspiration for Homegrown/Homespun – a collaboration between Grant and Super Slow Way. The sustainable fashion project began in spring 2021 when a field of flax and woad was planted on a piece of unused ground on the banks of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Blackburn. The crops were harvested and processed in the autumn and finally, spun, dyed and woven in Blackburn, to create the first pair of commercial homegrown and homespun jeans live in the town centre during the Biennial.

The 62 Group, Caren Garfen, ‘Fragments’, 2021, (detail)

Another key festival highlight comes in the form of an exhibition shown in the grandiose setting of Blackburn Cotton Exchange by artists Jasleen Kaur, Jamie Holman and Masimba Hwati, which draws upon family histories and lived experiences across three continents to reveal the residual cultural identities of the British Empire. The 64 Group of textile artists will present an exhibition of contemporary textile art at The Whittaker that will encourage audiences to consider the role that textiles play in all of our lives and social fabric. While, at Queen Street Mill in Burnley, artist Reetu Sattar will explore the contemporary tensions between traditional cultures in the Bangladeshi diaspora and the forces of modernity through the lens of the ever-evolving history of the cotton industry.

There will also be a retrospective of exclusive C.P. Company archive pieces dedicated to five decades of the Italian sportswear brand, and the lasting legacy of it’s found, Massimo Osti. An arrangement of activities will run alongside this exhibition, including student workshops and panel talks, which will include speakers from the brand, as well as respected names in sportswear and casual culture.

Head to the BTB website for the full list of participating artists and works.

British Textile Biennial at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, Blackburn

1–31 October 2021
Free entry