Heritage Show + Tell

RT-web-image-3-520x198Towards the end of the exhibition’s run, I was invited to an event organised by two projects at the University of Leeds: Rethinking Textiles and Enterprise of Culture. It was timely that they found out about Shoddy. The workshop, Rethinking Textiles: Yorkshire Edition, on 21st April 2016, presented new approaches to the history of textiles and the Industrial Revolution from different interpreters, including museum professionals, academics and educators. So, a really varied and interesting agenda, particularly the presentations from textile archivists in the region.

The day ended with a Heritage Show + Tell session which gave participants a very tight three minutes (!) to present an idea or project. This was my presentation about Shoddy – I’m afraid I ran over by a few seconds.

Shoddy. Not a single thing is valueless or useless

Shoddy was an exhibition by disabled artists, using textiles in their work. The exhibition took place in Leeds, it just ended at the weekend, but I am working on other showings. It’s had a great reception. We had 17 individuals or groups of artists taking part.

This audience will be well aware of the original meaning of Shoddy. But the exhibition played around with the different definitions. The inter-connected themes were:

  • Shoddy and shoddy manufacturing
    – the material, shoddy industry in Leeds/West Yorkshire.
    – Expanded to include the woollen industry, mills & mill work, local history
    • Recycling/re-using/re-purposing
    • Shoddy treatment of disabled people by current government
    – with the massive raft of public spending cuts including welfare benefits, cuts to social care, and more – which are disproportionately affecting disabled people.
    Shoddy isn’t really an adequate word to describe this systematic erosion of disabled people’s rights.

The overall aim of the exhibition was to challenge any assumptions that disabled artists, our work, and our-selves, are inferior, broken-down, second-rate or badly made. Which is what most people think shoddy means.

The title of this presentation, “Shoddy. Not a single thing is valueless or useless” is taken from Samuel Jubb’s History of the Shoddy Trade from 1860. This project says that not a single person is valueless or useless.  We both reject and embrace the term “shoddy”.

In thinking about the history and origins of Shoddy I also aimed to draw comparisons between disabled people’s lives then and now:
ideas around the deserving / undeserving poor, the workhouse, the rise of charities in Victorian times.

But what I’m also interested in, and I don’t know whether anyone can help with this, is finding out about the positive contribution that disabled people made during the Industrial Revolution, in the textile industries.
There must be more to the story than the workhouse, asylum or industrial injury. Did disabled people have a role in the mills or in industry? Can anyone give any pointers?

But if you can’t answer that, don’t worry!  I’m interested in talking to anyone who can support the project or wants to find out more.

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