Hidden histories: new exhibition seeks to unpack Manchester's colonial legacies

The University of Manchester has launched a new exhibition exploring the social and environmental legacies of North West England’s cotton industry, science and economy.  

Taking place at Burnley’s Queen Street Mill Textile Museum throughout October, the exhibition LITMUS: Environmental Legacies of Cotton aims to unearth and unpick the social and environmental consequences of the North West’s cotton industry, through the artistic work of textile artist and creative facilitator Natalie Linney.  

Based in Manchester, Linney specialises in using textiles, form and print to respond to current, historical, environmental and anthropological themes. Drawing on multiple meanings of a ‘litmus test’, the exhibition seeks to reveal the local and global environmental impacts of cotton through cloth, colour and environmental materials.  

Alongside the works by Linney, there is an exhibition of archival materials, photographs and artefacts curated by Dr Laura Pottinger, Professor Alison Browne, and the academic team at the University of Manchester’s School of Environment, Education and Development.  

The Litmus exhibition has been developed as part of the British Textile Biennial 2023, a series of commissions and exhibitions exploring the legacy left behind by Lancashire’s textile industry.  

All work was completed in collaboration with the Cottonopolis Collective – an interdisciplinary team of historians, geographers, scientists, cultural organisations and artists seeking to interrogate Manchester’s position as the first industrialising city. 

Though often celebrated as a city of science and innovation, Manchester and its cotton industry’s far-reaching and problematic impacts are often brushed over. Through LITMUS, we’re seeking to shed light on these many unspoken truths and hidden histories, highlighting just how much of a key role Manchester and Lancashire’s cotton industries played in the expansion of the United Kingdom’s colonial aspirations.  

By using cotton as a starting point, our aim is to unsettle the celebration of Manchester as city of science and innovation and untangle the many ways that industrial Manchester impacted people and environments both near and far. It’s been a privilege working on this project and I’m looking forward to seeing how it will be received by the public

Professor Alison Browne

The general public are also invited to attend a drop-in ‘collaborative stitching’ workshop on Sunday, 15 October, at which they can contribute some embroidered stitches to a collaborative piece reflecting on the themes of the exhibition. 

The exhibition will remain open until Sunday, 29 October, and will seek to reveal the local and global environmental impacts of cotton through working collaboratively with cloth, colour and environmental materials. 

To hear more about the LITMUS Exhibition and the British Textile Biennial, listen to Professor Alison Browne and research collaborator Dr Arianna Tozzi on the Cloth Cultures Podcast 

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