Sohaila Baluch – Sprigged: A Million Little Cuts

Durational performance, involving a chair, muslin, and garden twist ties, June 2023

This performance will take place throughout the gallery and span the duration of the show. The artist will migrate through the multiple spaces at Beaconsfield, upstairs, downstairs, inside, and outside, inhabiting different locations during each sitting to sprig muslin using garden twist ties. Traditionally, sprigging is a delicate form of embroidery that involves a hooked stitching technique made with a tambour hook, a tool like a fine needle with a crochet hook at one end. The process always requires the continuous use of both hands to create the lines of chain stitch and is also known as crewel work in the UK. In horticulture, sprigging is a method used to propagate certain types of plants.

The work draws attention to the intricate connections between piecework labour and colonial textile histories, to uncover the shared narratives and power dynamics between historical muslin production and contemporary textile manufacture. In British history, sprigged muslin is commonly associated with Regency women’s fashion, characterised by delicate white muslin fabrics that were decorated with finely embroidered sprig designs, usually using the same colour thread. This association has become an iconic symbol of the era’s elegance and refinement. However, the deliberate act of ignoring the historical connection between the exploited labour of the brown bodies who were instrumental in the meticulous craftsmanship and production of this fabric has created a perception that muslin is exclusive to white British cultural heritage. This erasure extends to marginalised workers in the contemporary textile industry who continue to face exploitation and disregard. The deliberate omission of the exploitation of South Asian textile production, labour and trade from historical narratives and visual representations in British history has served to perpetuate discrimination against these bodies. This exclusion has reinforced the marginalisation of non-white contributions to British cultural heritage, leaving South Asian diasporic communities deeply wounded and rupturing their sense of belonging.

This performance will centre the artist’s brown body re-enacting an alternative process of sprigging as a transformative act within the gallery. It allows for the reclamation of space, challenging dominant narratives and power structures. By highlighting the presence and agency of the female brown body engaged in an act of labour that embodies the labour of piecemeal textile work, historical truths that have been obscured or marginalised are brought to the forefront. This action also opens possibilities for a more inclusive understanding of belonging, disrupting traditional ideas of who is granted access and who is seen as belonging in these spaces.

Performance timings:

Wednesday 21 June: 6 – 7 PM (private view)

Thursday 22 June to Saturday 24 June: 1 – 4 PM daily

Friday 30 June and Saturday 1 July: 1 – 4 PM daily