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‘VLISCO UN à UN’ is a major exhibition celebrating the Dutch textile manufacturers 170th birthday. Showing at the Gemeentemuseum Helmond until March 12th 2017, the exhibit displays a variety of items, fabrics and installations that tell the story of the company’s designs. Looking at both the history of Vlisco as well as its future, the exhibition features major collaborations with Dutch and African artists and fashion designers. The Netherlands based company — which produces textiles mainly for African women — is acknowledging the landmark event by holding events both in its hometown of helmond and in Africa, where its major market lies.

Vlisco was founded in 1846 by Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen who attributed the company’s continued success to its unique designs and printing techniques. The production in Helmond has been improved and refined over the years, but the wax process used has essentially stayed the same. The designs are bold, vibrant, colourful and feature extensive detailing. The wax printing process ensures that every printed yard is different to the next. Installations take visitors on a journey through the Vlisco factory, from the market and the drawing table, explaining how color is applied. ‘VLISCO UN à UN’ finishes up with two fashion exhibits, demonstrating the rich history of collaborations between the manufacturer and contemporary African designers.

The psychedelic exhibition space was designed by Studio Harm Rensink, who ‘skinned’ the walls and floor of each room with the designs of former Vlisco designer Michiel Schuurmans, enhancing the feeling of ‘stepping into’ Vlisco. Running parallel to the exhibition in the upper level of the Gemeentemuseum Helmond is a collection featuring the work of Yinka Shonibare. Shonibare is a British-Nigerian artist who incorporates Vlisco fabrics in his work, through which he discusses the problematic discourse around colonialism and race.

‘VLISCO UN à UN’ opens with an brilliantly white installation by the young artist Daniel de Bruin referencing the built form of Vlisco factories. Onto this installation Vlisco designer Teun van den Wittenboer’s vibrant animation — showing Vlisco’s production process — is projected. The animation focuses on the uniqueness of the product, and explains how the distinct crackle patterns emerge.

The ‘designer’s picks’ installation shows a collection of inspirational fabrics selected by the current team of 12 Vlisco designers. This is the result of an extensive search into the company archives and researching of old sources, ultimately culminating in a broad selection of Vlisco’s various printing methods and pattern types. Also honored as part of the exhibition are the ‘Nana Benz’, the women who sell Vlisco fabrics on the African market. Essential to the success of the company, the dedication and enthusiasm of the women is celebrated in a five-film video installation featuring conversations with the women about their connection to Vlisco.

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