Made in Bangladesh: The Human Cost

by on February 11, 2015

The materials and commodities of the modern world are made in just a handful of countries— most of which maintain very loose labor laws. But can something as abstract as the creation and value of art be equally exploited?

According to Helena Waldmann, it absolutely can.

Photo: Ridwan Adid Rupon
Photo: Ridwan Adid Rupon

The struggles of sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are put on display in her new performance piece, Made In Bangladesh. Directed and arranged by the German choreographer, Waldmann’s piece explores the don’t-ask-don’t-tell conditions of sweatshops and garment factories in developing countries. And while reporting which covers the human cost of our clothes and toys is a story gone the way of other media-heavy disasters, Waldmann’s message is intentional: the world is still listening.

The piece brings to life the interviews of over 1,000 factory workers, as well as incorporating the collapse of a garment factory building in Dhaka in 2013 – one that left more than 1,100 laborers dead. The story is shown through Kathak, a fast-paced staccato rhythm dance form which “reminded Waldmann of the rapid needle of a sewing machine.”

In conjunction with Vikram Iyengar as co-choreographer, the 12 Bangladeshi dancers in the show spent extensive time and had copious interactions with garment workers, who provided firsthand accounts. The performance works to draw a connection between artists and lives within the factory, as each is faced with the ultimatum of devoting themselves to a purpose which positions them as the lesser.