On April 24, 2013 a garment factory in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,127 workers and injuring 2,500. Following this tragedy, a conversation quickly began at MOWA to see if we could exhibit La Farge, Wisconsin artist Terese Agnew’s Portrait of a Textile Worker,
constructed from 30,000 clothing labels stitched together over the course of two years and completed in 2005. The tragedy in Bangladesh has raised awareness worldwide about where much of our clothing in the United States comes from, who makes it, and under what conditions. MOWA wants to contribute to the conversation by displaying Agnew’s masterpiece.
Terese created the 8' x 9' textile based on a photograph of a young girl at a sewing machine in a Bangladeshi sweatshop. The photograph was taken by Charlie Kernaghan, Director of the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. In the first video, Terese explains her motivation and inspiration behind the creation of the work.
In the second video Charlie Kernaghan reviews the deadly 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where unsafe and exploitative working conditions led to the deaths of 146 women and sparked off major improvements in US wage and labor laws. He then discusses how other than manufacturing location, things haven’t really changed in the garment business.
There’s a saying in French that is highly applicable here: "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose" which translates as "the more things change, the more they stay the same." After seeing Portrait of a Textile Worker,
we’re pretty sure you will never see clothing labels quite the same way again.
Portrait of a Textile Worker
was loaned to MOWA from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The loan is generously supported by Richard and Suzanne Pieper, David and Margarete Harvey, Cathy Rudder, Guy and Sheri Danielson, Charlie and Joan Williams.