13th June 2022
New Hetain Patel artwork honours cotton industry’s forgotten workers
A new artwork by award winning British artist, Hetain Patel, will be unveiled at Cromford Mills in Derbyshire on 16 July commemorating forgotten workers from the UK and global cotton industry.
Cotton Labour, a large scale sculpture of symbolic portraits woven from yarn, will remember workers that were crucial to the success of Sir Richard Arkwright’s cotton spinning mills during the industrial revolution, and depict the local women and children that formed the majority of Cromford Mills’ labour force.
The artwork, which is part of the Arts&Heritage Meeting Point programme, will also honour the enslaved labour of the wider cotton industry and members of Hetain’s own family who picked cotton in Kenya and India.
Artist, Hetain Patel, said:
“Sir Richard Arkwright is remembered today as one of Britain’s great industrialists, and his legacy is celebrated at Cromford Mills. In contrast there are no surviving records of the mill’s workers, the people responsible for much of Arkwright’s success.
Cotton Labour is about shining a light on the hundreds of forgotten workers that helped build the cotton industry in Britain, many of them women and children. It’s also a reminder of the enslaved labour involved in the wider cotton industry.
In addition, the artwork will reflect my own family’s personal experience of the cotton industry, as both my mother and grandmother picked cotton in Kenya and India.
Like all of my work, I want Cotton Labour to make a human connection, drawing links between the cotton industry and people of different ages, races, genders and backgrounds.”
Cotton Labour is a series of large-scale symbolic portraits woven into a mesh structure using yarn from donated clothing, textiles and materials. Hetain worked with members of the local community to create the yarn and build the portraits, which depict women and children from Arkwright’s pioneering water-powered cotton spinning mill, the enslaved labour involved in the wider cotton industry, and members of Hetain’s own family.
Displayed using a round, mesh sculpture, audiences will be able to view the portraits from both outside and within the sculpture.
“When people first see the artwork from a distance, the ethnicity of the portraits won’t be visible. I want people to engage with the imagery first. When they get closer, they’ll be able to see more of the human features and really connect with each and every portrait.”
Hannah Steggles, Head of Heritage at Cromford Mills, said:
“Whilst Sir Richard Arkwright is considered to have been a fair employer, life inside Cromford Mills was still extremely hard.
People worked 13 hour days, six days a week. Each and every worker played a part in the mill’s success, but we have no surviving records showing who they were.
Hetain’s work gives us the opportunity to remember the people behind the success of Britain’s cotton industry, and reflect on an important part of Cromford Mills’ history.”
Cotton Labour is presented as part of Meeting Point, a national programme led by Arts&Heritage that partners leading UK and international artists with museums and heritage sites to produce new artworks inspired by the museums and their collections.
Steph Allen, Executive Director at Arts&Heritage said:
“The Meeting Point programme gives museums and heritage organisations the opportunity to use the creativity and imagination of artists to present their collections in an entirely new way.
By looking at our history through a new lens, we’re able to see it in unexpected, vibrant and sometimes challenging ways, which is extremely important to how we see ourselves as a nation in the twenty-first century.
Hetain is one of the most exciting and critically acclaimed artists working today. His exploration into race, identity and culture always results in impactful and thought-provoking works. We’re extremely proud to be presenting his new sculpture as part of the Meeting Point programme.”
Cotton Labour will be on display at Cromford Mills in Derbyshire from Saturday 16 July until Sunday 18 September 2022.
For more information, visit www.cromfordmills.org.uk.
For more information about Hetain Patel, visit www.hetainpatel.com.