Sunday, 12 February 2012
Thursday evening, myself and Cat braved the freezing conditions to head out to the wilderness that is Hackney Wick. Stour Space is a relatively new, social community based organization which hosts exhibitions, educational events etc. It is in an absolutely amazing location opposite the new Olympic stadium. We were here for an evening of anthropological film and discussion with ARTEFACT. The main film that had tempted us out was Unravel by Megna Gupta which explored the journey of western textile waste from the UK to a recycling plant in Panipat, North India. A bold comment on the staggering consumption patterns of the west, the film explores the workers response and confusion as to why such an astounding amount of clothing, good as new is disposed of-
'Unravel follows the Western worlds least wanted clothes, on a journey across Northern India, from sea to industrial interior. They get sent to Panipat, a sleepy town and the only place in the world that wants them, recycling them back into yarn.
Reshma is a bright, inquisitive woman working in a textile recycling factory in small time India, who dreams of travelling the vast distances the clothes she handles have. While Reshma shows us how these garments get transformed, she and other women workers reflect on these clothes. Despite limited exposure to western culture, they construct a picture of how the West is, using both their imagination and the rumours that travel with the cast-offs.'
Meghna made a conscious decision to steer away from portraying a pitiful view of the workers and instead floods us with imagery of their smiles and infectious laughter. She also revealed in a talk after the screening that what the film captures is merely a small, significantly edited version of the whole process which involves key occurrences such as the disappearance of many of the imported clothing onto the black market. I feel this has tremendous impact on how the actual situation is perceived by us the view and in many ways one could argue that we are presented a falsified version. The anthropologist who has spent years of research at the textile plant in Panipat as well as other similar plants conducting an in depth observation of the processes and workers unfortunately did not work closely alongside Megna during her filming and interviews. I think that this would have benefited the capturing of a more realistic portrayal greatly.
I can gladly acknowledge the fact that a more positive portrayal of such a profound disclosure and commentary on the abominable state of the textile industry is indeed refreshing and original. However I cannot help feeling ambiguity towards whether or not this is actually doing the opposite and is in fact undermining the kind, generous nature of these people. My emotions are perhaps connected to an exhibition I visited whilst in Paris during my Contemporary Arts class. I can't help but make parallels between his work and "pervasive art" style and the attitude of Meghna towards her subjects. JR's work involves such things as pasting enormous portraits of "interesting" looking characters such as inhabitants of a Brazilian favela or the elderly in the most conspicuous of locations such as over bridges, on the side of buildings etc. Whilst the individuals themselves may feel proud of their brief "celebritisation" they are blissfully naive and unaware of their role in a billion dollar industry which stretches beyond their wildest imaginations. Which to be quite frank is in my opinion, a way of preying on the less fortunate and using their lack to fuel our gain. Yet another example of our world's inequality. Although Meghna has evidently only created this one film and with good intentions I still can't help feel that the workers are somehow being taken advantage of.
The other films shown were equally interesting and have definitely sparked my curiosity into investigating anthropological film further. It has even inspired me to re-read Danny Miller's book- The Comfort of Things which I first encountered during my studies at Bath. Ed Owles works for an independent film company called Native Voice which creates incredibly thought provoking documentaries and broadcasts in several countries which challenge the way in which we see the world. All have a distinct aspect of storytelling and informing in a subtle, authentic manner. The subject of the films is extremely diverse, from a focused portrayal of a female worker on an offshore oil rig in the North Sea to the absurd beauty pageant event held in an all female Columbian prison. I would recommend looking at the website where you can actually watch the films at your leisure- www.nativevoicefilms.com