‘non-toxic’ yet over-written with Cyrillic propaganda, highlighting the forced labour of children in Uzbekistan, which became endemic after the country’s independence.
However, one of the most captivating pieces by Schmidt is the recent collage, The Secret of Titus’s Success which accompanied a site-specific commission The Work of Salts at Salts Mill. Inspired by an 1853 sample book of alpaca/silk dress fabrics, Schmidt collaborated with The British Alpaca Fashion Company to recreate an ivy-patterned lustre fabric, woven exclusively by Gainsborough. The artist placed the indigenous Peruvian alpaca herders, who provided Titus Salt’s alpaca supply,
centre stage. During Salt’s time, Britain dominated Peru’s textile market, importing raw materials whilst exporting mass-produced cloth to Peru. Titus Salt perfected spinning Alpaca fibre from Peru to produce sought-after ‘lustre’ fabrics, using silk warp and alpaca weft, making Salt an extremely wealthy industrialist.
Overall, Alke Schmidt presents artworks that question our choices. Do we still shop for textiles regardless of where and how they have been made? Schmidt does not impose a narrative but chooses to question our conscience, highlighting the harsh realities of the textile trade, both historic and present, which we are all connected to.There are no answers but rather a jolt, a shock and re-awakening to guard against complacency in the fight for sustainability, social and economic fairness. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness’. Uthra Rajgopal Alke will be talking about her work on 25 February 2019 The Artworkers Guild, see www.selvedge.org for details. As part of Waltham Forest’s celebration as London’s first Borough of Culture, Alke will co-curate and take part in an exhibition at Vestry House Museum in summer 2019 that explores the wonders of, and threats to, bees and other pollinators. www.alkeschmidt.com