Diaspora by Design: Migration, Mills and Interiors

Barber Lecture Theatre - Barber Institute - University of Birmingham
Wednesday 22 February 2023 (16:00-17:30)
a large roam with semi-circular rafters and seats either side

Sabrina Rahman (University of Exeter)

Unfortunately this event has been postponed due to industrial action and will be rescheduled

By the end of the nineteenth century, textile mills were ubiquitous in industrial regions throughout the Global North. While the wider cultural, economic and political implications of these mills have led directly to the establishment of the history of design as a discipline, to date there has been little to no attention paid to the diasporic communities who worked in textile mills, and how these experiences shaped vernacular practices of interior design into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

This talk takes as its focus three distinct geographies that have been shaped by mills and migrant cultures: Bradford, West Yorkshire; Paterson, New Jersey; and Bad Vöslau, Lower Austria. By focusing on regional, as opposed to metropolitan, contexts, it seeks to uncover voices and practices that have been missing from design archives and institutionalised narratives of migrant and economic history.

The presentation asks the following questions: How have the diasporic communities fostered in the textile mills of Bradford, Paterson and Bad Vöslau turned to interior design—including domestic spaces, local cultural centres, eateries and shops—as a means of cultivating a collective identity? What do the interiors created within these communities tell us about issues of class, gender, race and ethnicity in sites that have been defined as peripheral or non-existent in the history of Modernism? How do such sites inform a visual and haptic history from below that focuses on notions of regional identity and cosmopolitanism across temporal, geographical and religious boundaries? The transregional approach to answering these questions strives towards a meaningful recasting of modern design history, one that illuminates the complex patterns of marginalised microhistories, while emphasising constellations of the global and the vernacular in everyday settings.


Image caption/credit: MyLahore, Leeds © Imran Akram, 2018

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