Second Sight

Zarah Hussain

Invisible Threads

Zarah Hussain works in 3D with sculpture, animation and digital art. Her work fuses the traditions of Islamic geometrical design with digital technology to create vibrant light installations.

In 2018 Barnaby Festival commissioned Zarah to produce a new piece of work Invisible Threads, inspired by the hidden history of the silk and textile industry in Macclesfield.

Zarah Hussain was born in Macclesfield and grew up in a weaver’s cottage and both of her parents worked in the textile industry. Zarah explained that she was interested in the invisible history of the textile industry – where Kashmiri men and women came to Macclesfield to work in the mills – yet their contribution is largely forgotten.

Zarah’s work has been exhibited at The Barbican, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the William Morris Gallery in London where she is now based.

Photography: Massud Khan

Photography: Massud Khan

Invisible Threads

Q. Tell us about the inspiration for Invisible Threads and how you developed it?

When I was first doing research on the silk heritage in Macclesfield, I was really surprised to discover that an industrialist called Thomas Wardle visited Kashmir three times to collect examples of silks and woodblocks for printing designs onto silk fabric. Like me, Wardle was born in Macclesfield and he set up a silk dyeing business in Leek. Wardle had a deep connection to Kashmir and purchased in Europe large amounts of silk-worm eggs and cocoon-reeling machinery for Kashmir, which revived the silk industry there.

Interestingly, later on immigrants from Kashmir came to work in the town’s mills, I am the daughter of one of those immigrants and in a way I am fascinated that the story comes full circle. I also find it interesting how, through Empire and the colonial legacy of the Raj, there are ‘invisible threads’ connecting Macclesfield and Kashmir.

Q. You are from Macclesfield and have a strong connection to the town. What was it like exhibiting your work here?

It was a great experience to show work in Macclesfield. I moved away from the town in 1998. I visit regularly to see my parents and it was really nice to show work in my hometown and to see old friends and my old art teacher!

Q. How has your background informed your work?

I am from a Pakistani immigrant family, my background and heritage has definitely had a huge impact on my work. I also love geometry and Islamic art and I always wanted to study Islamic design and make contemporary art influenced by my cultural heritage.

Q. If you were to revisit Invisible Threads, how would you develop it further?

I think it could be developed into a more 3D immersive type installation – something bigger with lights surrounding you on all sides.