Len and I have had some interesting discussions recently with textile collectors who have suggested that what Surayia called “nakshi kantha tapestry” is a misnomer, since “tapestries” are woven and not embroidered.

It’s an interesting point, and it calls to mind Surayia’s stories about how some people in Bangladesh argued that her work should not use the term nakshi kantha since traditionally kantha were meant for household and ceremonial use, not as art to hang on a wall.

Surayia uses the term “nakshi kantha tapestry” for several very good reasons.  First, the pieces grow out of and draw on the rich tradition of Bengali kantha: they are done on several layers of fabric quilted together, often using the running stitch of kantha.  Second, they are meant to be displayed on a wall as is a tapestry.  So the resulting artwork comes from several traditions but brings them together into a new form.

Some might call her works “quilts” rather than “tapestries,” while others insist that they are not really quilts in the sense that we use the term in North America.

In the end, we prefer to stay with the terminology Surayia uses and that has become the term generally accepted for her work in Bangladesh.  It’s also interesting to note that “The Encyclopedia of Needlework” by Therese de Dillemont says:  “Under the heading of tapestry are  included nowadays all kinds of embroidery on counted threads in which the fabric is entirely covered by the stitches.”  That definition certainly encompasses Surayia’s amazing textile art.

Furthermore, one of the most famous pieces of embroidery in the world is the Bayeux Tapestry.

And isn’t it interesting to think of how early medieval Europe and pre-European Bengal developed beautiful — but very different — art using the same basic materials and the inspiration and skill of embroiderers?  Indeed, stories in narrative textiles have been, and continue to be, told the world over.   And they bring beauty to our lives and can build community and sustainable livelihoods, regardless of how they are called.

What does “tapestry” mean to you?


It was great to see this article in the Dhaka Daily Star about the recent Bangladesh exhibit in Paris, as part of a year-long commemoration of Bangladesh’s 40th independence anniversary.

When we visited Dhaka last fall we had the opportunity to meet with Preema Nazia Andaleeb and Shariful Islam of the Bangladesh Brand Forum who were organizing the show.  We spoke with them about the film and Surayia’s art.  When they indicated an interest in including some of her work in the Paris show we helped to find a collector in France who was willing to loan two pieces.  As Preema notes in the article: “There were two unique tapestries by veteran artist Suraiya Rahman, which were a revelation of the lost talent of the country.”

Congratulations to all who worked so hard to bring this to completion.  It is great to see Surayia included in a show in France, particularly since she had shows at the Alliance Francaise in Dhaka and some of her favorite paintings were purchased by French people who knew her and admired her art in the 1970s.

We look forward to the Bangladesh art show in New York toward the end of 2011!


Today is International Museum Day, and we join others globally in congratulating the many people around the world who work with little public recognition and sometimes at great personal sacrifice to create and maintain museums for the benefit of all of us.

We also want to recognize three museums in particular that we know have Surayia’s artwork.  There may be others.  If you know of any, please get in touch with us and make us aware of where Surayia’s art is.

We know for sure that Surayia’s artwork is located in:

The Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

Textile Museum of Canada, Toronto

Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan

And last but not least, we also want to thank the nearby Seattle Asian Art Museum for its great programming and interest in South Asian art.

Happy International Museum Day!




Maureen describes a piece of Surayia’s art as Tobie films. Photo copyright Kantha Productions, LLC

Len and I had a very exciting time on Saturday directing the filming of an interview with Maureen Berlin.  Maureen is an important figure at turning points in Surayia’s life: Maureen started the Skills Development for Underprivileged Women (SDUW) project in Dhaka 30 years ago, where Surayia first worked with destitute women and stitching to create what became nakshi kantha tapestries.  It was also Maureen who let Surayia go from the SDUW project some years later.  That set Surayia on the path to form her own organization, Arshi.  For that, Surayia might nowadays be considered a social entrepreneur.

Maureen, who has been strongly supportive of our film and very helpful to us in many ways, has a interesting story of her own.  Her life could be the subject of a film, too.

Working with us to do the filming was Tobie Caplette, who owns To Be Heard Digital Films, Inc.  Tobie has made a significant contribution to Threads by helping us capture Maureen and her collection of Surayia’s art on film and in still images.  It was great to meet Tobie in person — we have been working with her by e-mail and phone since early in 2011 when Maureen introduced us.  Tobie is a 2009 graduate of the Capilano University’s Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking Program.

Christine lights Surayia’s art. Photo copyright Kantha Productions, LLC.

Christine Deye helped Tobie with setup and lighting, both of which were fairly complicated because of space constraints and the need to convey the colors of the art accurately.  It was a real pleasure to work with both of them!

Many thanks to Maureen, Tobie and Christine for their help with this important piece of the film, as well as to Caitlyn Goulet-Pantherbone for her help during the still filming sessions in January.  We also thank Capilano University’s IIDF Program and Coordinator Doreen Manuel.


Cathy checking the interview setup. Photo copyright Kantha Productions, LLC

Len and Tobie review interview questions. Photo copyright Kantha Productions, LLC.

Rita and Cathy at work. Photo copyright Kantha Productions LLC.

Surayia has spoken many times about creating and how important it was to her.

Len and I had a great afternoon working to complete the fundraising trailer for the documentary.  It’s always exciting to see the images and music come together to tell a story.

We really enjoy editing with Rita Meher.  Rita is a founder and executive director of  Tasveer, “a Northwest not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting independent South Asian cinema.”  She organized a screening of a trailer for the film at “Aaina,” which I blogged about on March 20.  She works for SCAN TV, Seattle’s public access station, and is also, like Surayia, a wife and mother.

I’m looking  forward to posting a trailer on the website soon.