Part I: Performing Pattern / Part II: Mathematical Wefting / Part III: Tensions in the Warp / Part IV: Supplementary Erasure
What of the people who produced the goods of the Empire? Contemporary artist Erika Tan looks at a ‘forgotten’ figure: Malayan Halimah Binti Abdullah, an expert weaver who was brought to the United Kingdom to participate in the 1924 British Empire Exhibition held in Wembley, London. Halimah never returned to Malaya; she contracted pneumonia, died and was buried in the United Kingdom that same year. The loom, textiles and various other items from the said exhibition were eventually collected by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. This current exhibition sees the return of the very handloom used by weavers in the 1924 exhibition to the region, and a ‘return’ of sorts of the textiles in their stores. Tan explores the figure of Halimah through a series of glass slides showing photographs of the Malayan pavilion where Halimah demonstrated her skills to visitors, her eventual resting place, and alludes to an entangled trajectory of textile manufacture both in the weaving mills of northern England, and ‘handicraft’ production in this region. Tan’s work explores the tensions between art and craft, performance and labour, repetition and pattern, alongside the place of industry in the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised. The Weavers Lament is part of an on-going project Halimah-The-Empire-Exhibition-Weaver-Who-Died-Whilst-Performing-Her-Craft, where
Halimah becomes the central figure and mechanism by which to counter colonial legacies in the understanding of art history in Singapore.
Medium: Magic lantern glass slides, video, digital textile prints on canvas
Collection of the artist
Archival images courtesy of National Archives of Singapore