ROM uncovers fashion’s environmental impact with Noelle Hamlyn: Lifers

New exhibition highlights the damaging global effects of garment overconsumption.


TORONTO, April 21, 2023 - This June, visitors can immerse themselves in Noelle Hamlyn: Lifers, a ROM-original exhibition by Canadian visual artist Noelle Hamlyn. Using the metaphor of the life jacket (“Lifers”), the exhibition examines the rampant overproduction by the textile and fashion industry, and our personal overconsumption and the resulting detrimental impact on the environment. Running from June 3, 2023, to February 19, 2024, Lifers will showcase over 30 repurposed life jackets, which have been hand-tailored from reclaimed and discarded fashion pieces.

Visitors will feel submerged underwater thanks to the unique exhibition design, which presents the artworks as if floating throughout the space. Large-scale photographs by Geoff Coombs show the Lifers in use in Georgian Bay, Ontario, further enhancing the experience. In addition, an original soundscape developed by audio designer Miquelon Rodriguez and musician Callahan Connor will include the unsettling sounds of melting ice and glaciers, with sonic elements simulating the experience of maritime tragedy.

Lifers is co-curated by Dr. Alexandra Palmer, Nora E. Vaughan Senior Curator, Global Fashion & Textiles, and Dr. Soren Brothers, Allan and Helaine Shiff Curator of Climate Change, both from ROM. Brothers joined ROM in November of 2021, and this is the first exhibition involving the Museum’s climate change curator, reinforcing ROM's role in addressing the climate crisis. Across the hall from the immersive installation, visitors will experience an area for further reflection in which the scale of the environmental impact of fashion is revealed through single items of clothing, encouraging steps towards improved climate futures.

“What do we do with fashion waste? What happens when garments are no longer wanted or have outgrown their use?”, asks artist Noelle Hamlyn. “Lifers explores hubris and privilege through a visual metaphor provoking thought, awareness, and action about the impact of personal fashion choices on water and climate.”

“With this striking installation, Noelle Hamlyn reminds us that art is essential to understanding the world’s most pressing issues, including sustainability and climate change,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO.

“Acceleration of textile and fashion production sold for less and less, fast fashion, has escalated consumption across all markets – even luxury,” highlights Dr. Alexandra Palmer, co-curator of Lifers. “Today’s consumers appear to be physically, intellectually, and emotionally disconnected from how garments are made and what it takes to make them. We buy more and wear our clothing less. We no longer understand the true cost of fashion.”

“The global textiles industry is a major contributor to climate change and water pollution,” emphasizes Dr. Soren Brothers, co-curator of Lifers. “Bringing to light the enormous negative impact of textiles production on climate, water, and social justice issues is imperative for accelerating the changes necessary to address this wicked problem.”

Fascinated by texture, Noelle Hamlyn holds credentials in both craft and fine art, having exhibited her art nationally and internationally. Based in Mississauga, the artist intentionally works with textures and materials in the hopes of coaxing them into revealing their narratives. For this exhibition, Hamlyn was inspired by the hubris of the unsinkable Titanic, which did not have enough life jackets or lifeboats.

Public programming will bring to light the urgency of the exhibition themes, with more information to follow. Tickets to Noelle Hamlyn: Lifers are included with General Admission to the Museum.

Photo credit: Lifer by Noelle Hamlyn: worn by Colleen Snell. Photograph by Geoff Coombs.




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Opened in 1914, ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) showcases art, culture, and nature from around the world and across time. Today, ROM houses more than 13 million objects, from Egyptian mummies to contemporary sculpture, from meteorites to dinosaurs. ROM is the most visited museum in Canada and one of the top ten museums in North America. It is also the country’s preeminent field research institute, with a diverse range of experts who help us understand the past, make sense of the present, and shape a shared future. Just as impressive is ROM’s facility—a striking combination of heritage architecture and the cutting-edge Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, which marks the Museum as an iconic landmark and global cultural destination.

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