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Wonder & Dread (8): Not just an exhibition !

One more week to go! Sunday 4 November will be the last day of "Wonder & Dread" at Bradford Industrial Museum (BIM) - if you haven't seen it, now is your last chance!

It's been such a wonderful and inspiring project, and seems strange that I don't have more trips to Bradford lined up for now. During my research I really fell in love with the place and its people, and made many new friends. Also, because I see my work as a conversation with the viewer, I really enjoyed talking to visitors and hearing their stories when I came in to give guided tours. The panel discussion I organised at BIM about (un)fair fashion was another highlight. In fact, the one thing I regret about the project is not living closer to Bradford - a 6 hour round trip (if the trains are cooperating!) makes popping into the exhibition at short notice almost impossible.

Therefore I am really grateful for having had the chance to collaborate with two wonderful Bradford-based artists, who have delivered an extensive engagement programme for schools and families.

Irene Lofthouse, aka mill worker Mary Ryan, telling the story behind "A Terrible Calamity".

Irene Lofthouse - writer, actor, storyteller - held 6 popular family drop-in sessions in the exhibition, spread throughout the year. Taking the role of 45-year old Mary Ryan, one of the 54 mill workers who died in the 1882 Newlands Mill disaster, brought to life the stories of had work, danger and exploitation that are explored in "A Terrible Calamity" and other works in my exhibition.

"A Terrible Calamity". The work includes a bobbin for each worker who died in the 1882 mill collapse. The detail shows the bobbins of Mary Ryan and her daughter Brigid.

This was then followed by a hands-one weaving practice - with gorgeous and colourful results! Another reminder how the textile industry produces beautiful things but is labour-intensive (and all too often rife with exploitation). Irene was also a wonderful source of stories and tips about Bradford - I could have listened to her forever.

Weaving colourful samples in the exhibition

Naseem Darbey - multi-talented visual artist whose signature works are her textile-based "hollow drawings" - has been leading 5 one-day workshops with high school students and colleges.

Students - and their drawings - in one of Naseem's workshops

Each workshop involved students visiting the exhibition and talking about the work and the stories behind it, observational drawing and colour studies situ, as well as drawings from the machinery and architecture of the mill. Back at school students then worked with Naseem to turn their observations and impressions into their own artworks, creating canvasses that explored a range of techniques and processes including fabric manipulation, painting and collaged found objects. Students were invited to bring a piece of their own clothing to include in their work and to consider the themes raised in the exhibition. Many students started ambitious works during the workshop that they could then finish in their next regular art classes at school.

Drawing in the exhibition and in BIM's weaving gallery, and getting stuck in back at school.

It's been really rewarding to hear feedback from the workshops. In one school the students even created poems inspired by my work for National Poetry Day. Students commented on how they found out about an aspect of the world they knew nothing about and that they're really glad they are now more aware, and want to see change. I couldn't have hoped for a better outcome!

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