collaborative work by Farah Naz Moon & Clare Charnley, UK
Clare and I have never met physically. We are from different countries and different languages. At the start of our collaboration we didn’t know how to begin our work. So first we started chatting on Whatsapp, sending only voice messages. We wanted to connect to each other. As we started our conversation the covid situation worsened. Then we stopped chatting. In this situation I suggested that we make a dress. Why a dress? A soft thing for hard times. Also, to live we need three elements - food, accommodation and clothing. At that point in the pandemic I became aware that clothes play an important role. At the time the government was shutting down everything with no specific plan for garment workers. All transport was off, but garment factories were open. Garment workers were coming into work by walking long distances from different district/cities. Then Clare and I shared our stories. Clare told me about the ;Ever Given, a huge container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal for seven days earlier that year, with an impact far beyond the actual event. International trading is a link between our stories.
Then I started my work with my heritage and emotion. In my village in Chandpur all the houses are made of bamboo or wood. But there is a very old structure made of brick and cement. Throughout my childhood I wondered why this building was different from the others. Then I learned its history from my parents - its name is NEELKUTHI. NEELKUTHI is located at Sahebganj, Faridganj, Chandpur. It was one of twelve Neelkuthi built by the British about 225 years ago and was to do with indigo cultivation in the18th century. It was built to control workers activities and the whole indigo manufacturing process. Its many rooms included prisons for farmers who refused to switch from growing food for their families to cultivating indigo. In 1859 the Indigo Revolt took place. In Chandpur District, Haji Molla declared ‘begging is better than indigo farming’. I started to research why my village was so important for East India Company. I found that Shahebganj Firingi Golinda merchants established a trading center as well as indigo plantations. It is known to local people that it was an industrial and trade area. This is evident in the design of the village and the various structures of the Rasta Ghat, the drainage canal and the cultivated culvert. At that time merchants from the Middle East brought in Darjeeling people to work in their garment factories, shipping the products abroad. Since then, the owners have settled permanently. Although indigo production finished in 1900, we continue to have to work for them. This is a sad situation for me and my village people whose realroots are in farming. So our struggle with the garment industry is made with blood. Our garment journey is related to ourlands and roots. I decided to work with muslin which is a Mai element for death. It is used to makes shrouds for the dead. These are made in the villages and the body is wrapped in many layers before its ritual journey by boat. For this reason I will put images and text about Neelkuthi on my dress, using the layers so it becomes semi-abstract. moment to think about how things can be done differently. Eventually our two dresses will be cut vertically. One half will be sent to the other artist and joined totheir dress as part of two simultaneous performances in conversation with an audience.
Both our dresses describe the legacy of colonialism but from different geographic positions. Current inequality continues from our linked, but different, histories. Farah’s family is personally connected to Neelkuthi; Clare is personally implicated every time she buys almost anything. Politically the situation and what to do about it is complicated. So the way that the dresses will not fit neatly together seems appropriate and important.