Dutch Wax. Manufacturing and Art
– 12 March 2017
To mark its 170th anniversary, the Museum Helmond in the Netherlands is dedicating its exhibition “Vlisco 1:1 Un à Un” to the Vlisco textile factory based there. At the same time until 12 February 2016, work by Yinka Shonibare, who is currently working with these textiles, will be exhibited under the title “Yinka Shonibare MBE / Paradise Beyond”.
Vlisco is known for “Dutch Wax”, which has been manufactured by the company for generations. These are colourful cotton fabrics, printed on both sides, sold primarily on the African market at prices which are much higher in comparison to other fabrics.
In the work by Vlisco on show, there are classic patterns, but also new interpretations and designs. The exhibition expands on four central themes: the company’s history, the production process, the design process and the use of the fabric in art and fashion. The fabrics have been inspired by Indonesian design, manufactured in the Netherlands as mass products and they epitomise an element of African identity and culture.
Originally, the fabrics were going to be marketed in the former Dutch colony of Java, but Dutch Wax was not able to get a foothold there. There are various reasons why sales were transferred to Africa. These included the fact that the town of Elmina was on the trade route, which led to the “discovery” of the market there in which Vlisco now plays a key role.
And this is the reason that the British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare also works with Dutch Wax. As regards content, he tackles the themes of race and class, power and migration in his work and uses painting, sculpture, photography and film to express these subjects. Shonibare endeavours to make sensitive topics accessible to the public in his exhibition.