The art of ‘manufacturing’ strong community ties in Blackburn

Published Thursday 26 October 2023 at 17:09

It’s the final weekend of the British Textile Biennial – and also the last opportunity to see the installation ‘Funufactury’ created by artist Ibukun Baldwin working with two Afghan evacuees.

When Razma and Palwasha first arrived in Blackburn a little over 12 months ago, they had a simple request – they’d like a sewing machine.

It was a small ask that would see them offered an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with multidisciplinary artist and social practitioner, Ibukun Baldwin, on her National Festival of Making ‘Art in Manufacturing’ residency. Ibukun was partnered with Blackburn-based Cookson & Clegg, where she was creating a large-scale immersive installation using denim waste from the production of jeans for Great Sewing Bee’s judge, Patrick Grant’s Community Clothing brand. 

And, following the huge success of the Festival back in July, the exhibition is on show for a second time at Prism Contemporary as part of the British Textile Biennial, who were co-commissioners of the piece, which has been running throughout the whole month of October.

You can explore Funufactury at Prism Contemporary, Lord Street West, Blackburn from until 29 October, as part of the British Textile Biennial programme. The installation is open 10am – 4pm Thurs – Sun.

There is also the opportunity to drop-in and stitch with artist Ibukun Baldwin on 29 October between 1.45 – 3.45pm. No booking necessary, the workshop is free to join in and all equipment and materials will be provided.

The installation, named ‘Funufactury’ uses offcuts from the denim line at the Shadsworth factory and brings them to life in the form of ‘beings’ who embody a manufacturing spirit without production quotas to determine their workflow.

With a shared ethos around sustainability, Ibukun was clearly drawn to Cookson & Clegg, a manufacturer also reshaping traditional systems with a new, innovative 10-2 production line, developed by Operations Director Victoria Grant. The 10-2 Line is part of the organisation’s commitment to exploring new ways to fill the textile skills gap, introducing the shorter working day to better suit school hours and older employees.

Ibukun wanted to reflect the ethos and passion of the factory in her piece and, as she has done so many times before, wanted to reach out to local communities to help with the work that would be seen by thousands of people – giving them a platform.

And, so, it was the chance request for a sewing machine that opened that door for Razma and Palwasha.

The National Festival of Making approached Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Integration Team who shared that they were working closely with families from Afghanistan now living in Blackburn. This team was able to suggest two women who they felt would be the perfect pair for this experience after a consultation process.

Ibukun and the Festival Team were keen that they would be paid Art Assistants rather than volunteers and they quickly set to it, starting with small sewing sessions that morphed into the huge, impressive work that adorns the Prism Contemporary walls today.

Artist Ibukun Baldwin said:

I just felt so inspired by Cookson & Clegg and the way it’s so open to creating opportunities that meet the needs of the community.

I’ve also learnt such a lot from working with refugee communities in the past and I wanted to be able to provide a real opportunity in a creative space.

Razma and Palwasha were already incredibly talented when I met them, but what was important to me was that we were able to support them to develop their skills even further – going on to help them produce products and continue making their own pieces after the experience.

In fact, the pair made new bags and aprons that were on show within the ever-popular Community Clothing pop-up shop at the packed out Festival – which drew in record crowds from right across the country with a packed programme right across the town.

The team were also supported throughout the project by The Calico Group, who introduced Razma and Palwasha to the Festival team and kindly provided an interpreter for the sessions.

Ibukun continued:

Even on the days where we didn’t have a translator, we just kept creating.

While we may not have had a shared language, there was a lot of laughing along the way and it was just such a pleasure sewing with them.

I really wanted to reflect the scale of the factory in this piece and create an experience with things to look at, to touch, ways to get involved – I wanted to create the excitement I felt when I visited the Cookson & Clegg factory floor.

That meant that there was a lot for us to do, but we embraced the challenge and I’ve enjoyed every single second.

Razma and Palwasha visited the Festival of Making with their families to proudly show them the finished works – being guests of honour at the launch.

Speaking about her experience, Razma said:

I am so proud of my works with this creative project.

My family has the positive view, they believe these projects enable women to integrate into society and one of the biggest things I’ve learnt along the way is about creating the best products from unused material with the lowest cost.

So successful has the collaboration been that new sewing sessions are now set to be offered out to the wider Afghan evacuee community, led by The Connect Hub – a new initiative aiming to facilitate connections and opportunities to support local communities in the Blackburn with Darwen area. The depth of the project highlights the importance of partnership working between councils, cultural organisations and community initiatives.

This was the fifth season of the National Festival of Making Art in Manufacturing commissioning programme.

Each season sees artists paired with leading manufacturers, from artisan producers to industry giants. The residency programme creates collaborations with highly skilled workforces, facilitates access to cutting-edge technologies and unearths hidden heritages – all resulting in remarkable, contemporary artworks.

To date, the programme has commissioned 28 artists to work with 21 artisan and mass manufacturers. The residencies create a platform not just for the making of new work, but for sharing experiences and connecting across boundaries.

The National Festival of Making will return on Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th of July 2024. Visit: www. to find out more!

This site uses cookies. Find out more about this site’s cookies.