A Tailor is sewing Tipu Sultan Dress

Title: A Tailor is sewing the dress of Tipu sultan
Part of the New North and South programme. The Whitworth, Manchester University, UK
Performance, Size /durations: 12 hours, 6 hours each day
Date of work: 19th and 20th May  2018
Photo credit: Ashley Van Dyck
Curated by: Amy george and uthra Rajgopal

A two-day performance by Yasmin Jahan Nupur, a leading contemporary artist from Bangladesh.

In this performance, Nupur uses specially handwoven muslin-jamdani as a signifier of power and consumption embedded in the contested and violent history of the subcontinent. A highly revered, translucent cotton cloth from Bengal, muslin embellished with jamdani (woven pattern) has been celebrated over the centuries for its mesmerising allure and feather-light texture, often compared to moonlight or the morning dew. This fine cloth made from a labour-intensive process historically adorned the richest of rulers in the subcontinent and attracted a lucrative overseas trade.

This performance will take place alongside Nupur’s works on display in the exhibition, Beyond Borders, connecting the rich and complex history of muslin and jamdani. Growing up in Bangladesh Nupur was aware of how muslin had been celebrated across the world but equally, was deeply affected by the legacies and impact of British colonialism. “There are entire generations of Bengali men and women who have grown up with legendary stories of how the British cut off the thumbs of weavers so they could no longer produce muslin and were forced to buy British goods. This history constantly hurts me”.

The 18th century saw significant political, social and economic changes to the subcontinent. It was a time when the area, which once incorporated Pakistan and Bangladesh, (amongst other South Asian countries) was under the administrative control of the British East India Company. Numerous battles were fought and aggressive advances were made to dominate and control trade.

During this time, the British East India Company secured trading rights in Bengal, establishing a factory in Dhaka and many others in Bengal. They strictly controlled the production of muslin. By the end of the 18th century the production was in decline. Many factors contributed to this such as famine, poverty, taxes and competition from British goods.

In the late 18th century Tipu Sultan was known as a fearless and great ruler of Mysore in Southern India, resisting the advances of the British East India Company. During his reign (1782-99) he built magnificent palaces and amassed a great fortune in jewellery, precious gems and ornaments. He was also known for his love of fine clothing including the finest muslins and jamdanis from Bengal.  In 1799 Tipu Sultan was killed in the Battle of Srirangapatna (Seringapatam) by the British East India Company which was heralded by them as a triumph. The officers subsequently looted his palaces, resulting in colonial booty eventually making its way into a great number of British national collections where they can still be seen today.

Nupur uses muslin/ jamdani as a medium to locate and express these individual and collective memories across time and place. This fine texture conceals and reveals, dissects and unites the space we occupy. The act of weaving is meditative, physical and emotional. The entire body of the weaver is invested into its formation. The fineness of muslin forms a second skin, connecting our bodies and spirit with the woven structures of the universe.

Situating the performance in the textile gallery at the Whitworth, Nupur translates these conflicted histories, working silently and industriously, oscillating between the absence and presence, the marginalised craft-maker and glorified victor.

Part of the New North and South programme.