Perlman Museum exhibit explores the high cost of cheap clothing

April 6, 2018

Now on display in the Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College, “The Price of Our Clothes” explores the high cost of cheap clothing. The exhibit is designed as a material meditation on garment factory disasters, asking audiences to carefully consider the lives and rights of garment factory workers. Created by visual artist Rachel Breen and poet Alison Morse, “The Price of Our Clothes” presents mixed-media artwork that is sewn, painted, stitched on and/or punctured with a sewing machine, along with powerful sound pieces, poems, and performances.

“The Price of Our Clothes” is a response to the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, and the collapse of garment factories at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013—connecting the two events in a historical and cultural context. Minnesota artists Breen and Morse created the exhibit in an attempt to comprehend the enormity of these tragedies, and to encourage others to consider the real cost of the clothing we wear by highlighting the unjust ways garment workers are treated and the dangerous conditions they often work in.

A reception for the exhibit will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 12. As part of the event, Morse will lead a poetry reading with multiple readers highlighting the poems she composed for “The Price of Our Clothes.” Morse’s poems animate the disasters, bringing to light our present day connections with garment workers around the globe and inviting reflection regarding our role in the garment industry supply chain.

Following the 2013 disaster in Bangladesh, Breen and Morse traveled to India to collect the stories of garment workers and survivors of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. The two hoped to highlight the real cost of “fast fashion” in an effort to encourage consumers and companies to think about how they can impact change in the world’s workplaces, especially the often unregulated garment industry.

Their subsequent exhibit, “The Price of Our Clothes,” is dedicated to storytelling and visual imagery. Breen’s piece “Shroud,” suspended from the ceiling of the Perlman Museum, includes 1,281 white cotton shirts sewn together, symbolizing the lives lost in the combined Manhattan and Bangladesh tragedies. Other works are created with thread and fabric scraps collected in Bangladesh. Sound recordings capture the voices of garment workers and activists, sharing their own stories. Copies of Morse’s poem will be on display, with digital prints available to take home.

Rachel Breen is a visual artist whose practice utilizes non-traditional materials and exhibition spaces, exploring social concerns through drawing, installation, and performance. She uses a sewing machine, one that is often unthreaded, for the mark it helps her make and for the way it embeds ideas of repair and connection into her work.

Alison Morse is a “writer of witness” who often conducts extensive interviews and experiments with poetry and creative prose to explore the complexity of social issues. Connecting visual imagery with public actions is an integral component of her practice. She regularly collaborates with artists in other disciplines, weaving words — written and spoken — into immersive, synesthetic experiences.

Admission to “The Price of Our Clothes,” including the reception on April 12, is free and open to the public. The exhibit is sponsored by the Perlman Teaching Museum, with support from Arts@Carleton, the Carleton College Center for Community and Civic Engagement, Rimon: The MN Jewish Arts Council, and the Brin Jewish Arts Endowment of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation Foundation.

The Perlman Teaching Museum is located in the Weitz Center for Creativity, 320 Third Street in Northfield. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday-Sunday. For more information, including disability accommodations, call (507) 222-4342.