There has long been concern about exploitation and conditions of those working in the textile industry, but increasingly there is growing unease about its impact on the environment too. Clare Smith is interested in the effects of dye pollution; particularly the relationship between the contamination and commercial imperatives shaped by the Western consumers in the manufacture of cheap goods.
Smith says that the inspiration for Bitter Harvest came from reading an online article:
"The Chinese textile industry creates about three billion tons of soot each year, and a single mill can use about 200 tons of water for each ton of fabric it dyes…Rivers run red or chartreuse, or teal, depending on what colour is in fashion that season – with untreated toxic dyes washing off from mills."¹
Smith notes that although there is an awareness of the significance of environmental degradation in New Zealand generated by the agriculture sector, there is less awareness of what is happening in the textile industry elsewhere, due to the fact that production is offshore and therefore largely invisible in Aotearoa.
At the start of the exhibition – the hangings will be white. Coloured dye will then begin to gradually seep out from the cups and stain the fabric moving down towards the food grains in bowls below.
Clare Smith is a textile artist living in Wellington. In 2012, she completed a Graduate Diploma in Applied Arts at Whitireia.
1. Menon, S. (2010). Cleaning up Chinese textile factories and the clothes you wear Retrieved March 17, 2012, from http://www.onearth.org/article/cleaning-up-chinese-textile-factories