The Narrative Thread, Contemporary Women’s Embroidery from Rural India


This exhibition of approximately 25 embroidered quilts from rural Bihar, will be on show at the Asia Society from 9 June to August 16, 1998. The exhibition will introduce the public not only to a regional Indian aesthetic and technique, but also to the complexities in contemporary India of rural development and of local efforts to empower village women and communities. As early as the 18th century, women in Bihar and Bengal in Eastern India were transforming old rags (kantha) into elaborately decorated quilts, typically given as gifts on festive occasions. Although the tradition died out in the early twentieth century, Adithi, a non-government agency working on rural development in Bihar, has revived and reshaped the craft to assist poor rural women.

Today, as in the past, women embroider kanthas with scenes from their daily lives - of work, play, worship and domestic life. Recently they have also begun to represent social and political issues that touch on their own lives, such as sati, caste-conflict, and environment. Although kanthas offer these women economic support and the opportunity to voice their concerns, the women's economic empowerment also creates tensions within family dynamics. Sujuni Kantha will provide a forum for discussion of these and other questions which the exhibit may raise. Craftswomen will travel to the US to speak of their own experiences during the exhibition. There will also be a talk on pan- Indian embroidery traditions and similar revival processes, by Laila Tyabji, Chairperson of Dastkar, India's largest non-government organization in the crafts sector. 

This project has been made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

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