Thursday, 8 January 2009

India Recycled

There's a photography exhibition at the Horniman Museum about India's clothing recycling industry that's only on view until 25 January. The images were shot by Tim Mitchell and fieldwork was performed by Lucy Norris. After a visit to the British Red Cross charity shop in Forest Hill, I paid a call to see their work.

Half the show depicts the strange life cycle of old donated clothes as they travel from the UK to India. India prohibits the import of second-hand clothes as it's viewed as competition against local trade. So clothes you take to Oxfam actually get sorted and then slashed before they can be shipped out. Once they make it to India, the mutilated clothes are shredded into pulp, which is the spun into yarn and woven into cloth to make blankets. Upcycling it ain't, but this does provide an interesting illustration of how we ingenious humans adapt according to the resources available to us.

The second half of the exhibition looks at the massive trade in second-hand clothing within India. One of the most interesting shots depicts the burning of an old sari in a crucible. Old saris often contain threads of silver and gold. In today's market, even tiny amounts of these metals are more valuable than the antique garments that contain them, so there are specialists who burn the fabric to liberate the metal for resale. What if we salvaged every bit of what we throw away so that the component parts could be reused? I'm off to dig through my closet, but sadly I'm more likely to find petrochemical byproducts in the form of a Topshop t-shirt than I am of finding a goldmine...

If you can't make it to the show, see some of the photos on the Guardian website.

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