The work of Lubaina Himid explores cultural history and reclaimed identities. The monochromatic Cotton.com (2002) is inspired by a little known act of solidarity enacted by Manchester mill workers at the time of the American Civil War (1861-64). As President Lincoln moved to abolish slavery, raw cotton supplies from the plantations to British mills dried up. This resulted in mass unemployment, an event known as the Cotton Famine. Despite the high personal cost, the workers’ unions passed a motion in support of Lincoln’s efforts to end slavery. In Cotton.com Himid imagines a conversation carried out between labourers on both sides of the Atlantic, an exchange dependent not upon language but rather pattern. Pattern plays a key part in Himid’s painterly grammar. Often regarded as feminine and merely decorative, it operates in the work as a means of non-literal communication. She explains, ‘I love the language of pattern, its immense potential for movement, illusion, colour experiments and subliminal political messaging. This...is just part of the exploration of how to imply invisible influences without explanation but without slipping into the abstract. The patterns are narratives.’ The work is completed by a long brass panel, with inscribed text adapted from one written by a plantation inspector and selected for its perverse romanticising of a woman’s enforced labour. A vocal feminist and defender of women's rights, by rephrasing the text to the labourer’s perspective, Himid empowers the woman to speak back to the male gaze.
- Artwork Details:
- Material description: Eighty-five oil on canvas panels, brass strip
- Credit line: © the artist
- Accession number: ACC44/2017