All artists are “Made in Bangladesh”

Dancer Brit Rodemund follows in "Made in Bangladesh“ follows exactly the same principle
Trina Mehnat in "Made in Bangladesh" by Helena Waldmann

Wonge Bergmann

Millions and millions of kilometers of yarn are unwound unremittingly from bobbins worldwide – in the myriad textile and sewing factories on this earth. Mechanically speaking, bobbins perform an almost endless pirouette. The human body follows exactly the same principle.

The human body – here that of dancer Brit Rodemund in “Made in Bangladesh” by Helena Waldmannv– follows exactly the same principle. She obeys the same economy of movement that enables textile manufacturers all over the world to meet the global demand for fabrics and clothing. Dance has been intensively concerned with bodily movements since the time of Rudolf von Laban, if not before. Similarly, since the 19th century, engineers such as the American Frederick Winslow Taylor have been focusing on optimizing the movements of workers: For every job there is a certain movement technique that allows a wall to be erected or a carpet to be woven as effectively and as quickly as possible or – as ballet also learned at that time – to perform a certain dance movement exactly as prescribed.

Anna Saup

Made in Bangladesh

How intertwined are work and dance – when one seems to be the exact opposite of the other? Of course, dance is physical work, for it produces a musculature that, for professional dancers, equals that of competitive athletes. It is striking how systematically thoroughly both sports and dance medicine analyze the body, in a manner similar to what Taylor once did, in order to ensure the optimal conditions for a performance that is as injury-free as possible. But there is yet another parallel, namely the poor pay received by dancers and workers alike. Physical labor is proletarian labor. According to Karl Marx this means: proletarians are doubly free wage laborers, people who own nothing but their labor power and can only earn their living by selling it. This is equally true of the dance scene. 

When the diesel generators kicked in after a power outage, the flimsy floors gave way: collapse of the nine-story Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka in April 2013 

Rahul Talukder

In November 2012, a horrific fire destroyed the Tazreen garment factory in Bangladesh. Later, in April 2013, the nine-story Rana Plaza factory building collapsed, crushing and injuring thousands of people. The world was alarmed. Calls for boycotts against Western companies whose products were manufactured in these inhumane conditions followed almost immediately. A year later, dance director Helena Waldmann visited the site. With the help of the dance organization Shadona, headed by Bangladeshi dancer Lubna Marium, a dance company was formed in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, that put on an internationally touring production: “Made in Bangladesh.” Audiences and critics worldwide marveled at the exoticism of the foreign workers portrayed by dancers. Small stalls regularly appeared in the foyers of the theaters where the play was touring, promoting “regional products” and “upcycling” and protesting exploitation and the globalized clothing industry. The work, however, was about something else:

Each textile factory contains numerous sewing lines: The performance of each is recorded on a chalkboard so that seamstresses perceive each other as competitors 

Wonge Bergmann

Don’t boycott our products: The background is easy to explain. While seamstresses are dependent on insufficient wages and forced overtime, this work is the only way for the women in this Muslim country to break out of their restricted circumstances and emancipate themselves as breadwinners for their families. They are proud of their work, and it is this pride that enables them to demand higher wages and improved occupational health and safety.

The only way these can be achieved, however, is if the West does not, in fact, boycott their products. So what do we want? To promote the emancipation of women and at the same time boycott globalization? And there is yet more we do not see. “Made in Bangladesh” not only uses dance to express the penetrating beat of the clothes produced on a piece-per-hour basis through ever-repeating hand and arm movements – which, incidentally, are based on the Kathak dance form that is common in Bangladesh – but in a second part of the piece, the workforce, portrayed by the dancers, takes a good look at itself. What about exploitation and emancipation among us – among the artists themselves?

Urme Irin

Wonge Bergmann

Shoma Sharmin, Pritha Shareen Ferdous

Wonge Bergmann

How much self-exploitation, how much hope for the future, how many underpaid or unpaid hours of work are necessary to escape our own precarious situations through art, dance, music, or the like, of all things? If you read the reviews of this piece, you will find that this question is still a taboo in the art world. Many point fingers at Bangladesh, but hardly anyone sees the economic issues that are just as pressing in our own culture, which is relished by tens of thousands every evening. Yet it is no secret that only a fraction of independent artists can actually make a living from their own art.

What is the reason for this? Is it oversupply? If there really were too many artists waiting like an endless army of willing workers outside the factory gates in Bangladesh, or making their way from one grant application to the next, as is customary in Germany, then this should mean that just as Bangladesh is a country of the clothing industry, Germany – in the words of publicist Adrienne Goehler – is a “cultural state.”

Hanif Mohammad

Wonge Bergmann

Dancing in a textile factory 

Georgia Foulkes-Taylor

More than half of all self-employed people in Germany make their living in the cultural sector. They work in industries such as design, film, journalism, art, literature, music, dance, and theater, or make a living from these arts in agencies, television stations, galleries, foundations, universities, as producers, organizers, distributors, and publishers. Together they are a force to be reckoned with, yet often without steady work and rarely unionized. Together they stand for the progressive emancipation from the outdated structures and mindsets in Germany. Tremendous revenues are generated in this sector: Culture is one of the biggest economic drivers in Germany, generating as much as 106.4 billion euros in revenue each year. As a result, “the culture and creative industries now surpass other important sectors such as the chemical industry, energy suppliers, and financial service providers in terms of value added,” according to the office of the German Minister of Economic Affairs. However, only a fraction of this money ends up in the pockets of the cultural professionals themselves. By far the largest part is swallowed up by administrative costs and technical departments – the old, still strong pillars of the German economic miracle.  

"Made in Bangladesh"

Made in Bangladesh

3,33€

Sometimes the workers in the sewing factories in Bangladesh compete in sewing like teams of athletes competing in an elite sports event – until they are completely exhausted. Whoever produces the highest number of pieces is the day’s winner. Winners in art are the creatives, in dance studios for example, who participate in a market that has always denied behaving like a market.

If you prefer to read on paper, you will find it here:

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