This studio exhibition emerges from a four-month residency supported by the Charles Wallace (India) Trust. 

Surekha, based in Bangalore, India, has previously explored clothing as a metaphor for the body. In an earlier series of photographs entitled Selving a Body, Surekha mapped the sinews and fragile structure of the human form. Here the artist responds to the context of Spike Island to produce a new series of work, which extends the remit of her practice beyond the literal body to commemorate the ‘body politic’. 

The fabric of British Make, a dress made from a 30 year-old ship sail, is upholstered with a lining of poppies, so that the outer surface becomes punctured by pins. The dress glows as if a fleshy interior lies beneath, whilst its spiky exterior appears as a coat of armour. 

Surekha’s research process led to a series of conversations with members of the British Legion, which revealed the extent to which the poppy has become a token of sacrifice and often of unquestioning commemoration. Surekha used the potency of this symbol in conjunction with second-hand sail-cloths to indicate Bristol’s own problematic history. Visits to S.S. Great Britain, the Industrial Museum and the Asian immigrant community in the city, revealed the extent to which Bristol’s relationship to India was bound inextricably to the slave trade and to colonialisation. 

They Grow Everywhere is perhaps the most specific in relation to this somewhat hidden history. The feral flower here colonises the sail-cloth – pinning the skin to the floor. 

Alongside, the photographs entitled Inside Out show a projection of the poppies across an unidentified torso. Here the work returns to a two-dimensional form in which the sculptural qualities of the sail structures are locked behind a glossy surface. The abstracted poppy features thus take on the characteristics of body parts displayed for our delectation. 

Claire Doherty,
Project curator
Spike Island
Bristol 2001