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Posted by:  Cathy and Len

How many lawyers and rhinos are there in Surayia’s work “The Raj?”  The answer is:  One … and two, depending on when the piece was designed.

The original "Raj" with one lawyer.

The original “Raj” with one lawyer.

In recent weeks we have had several fascinating conversations with Andreas, a friend of Surayia’s who encouraged her to design a nakshi kantha tapestry based on her experience as a witness to the last days of British rule in Calcutta.  Surayia mentioned Andreas to us some months ago, saying that we should get in touch with him.  Asked where he was and how to contact him, she said: “Oh it shouldn’t be hard to find him, he’s a German man.  Ask in Germany.  He gave me a leather book once.  Ask at the bookshops, they will know his address.”   Fortunately for us, an internet search turned up contact information for a man who seemed to be a match, and an e-mail to him asking if he might be the person Surayia mentioned brought a quick and gracious reply.


The updated "Raj" with a second lawyer.

The updated “Raj” with a second lawyer.

Surayia tells us that, when she was encouraged by Andreas to design the tapestry that she called “The Raj,” it had a hunting scene with one rhinoceros, and a courtroom scene with one lawyer.  This design was produced under the auspices of the Skills Development for Underprivileged Women project.  Surayia later was let go from SDUW.  The project retained her original designs and applied to the Copyright Board for ownership.  When some of the women from the Skills Development project came to ask her to help them, Surayia formed her own organization Arshi, and needed to re-create the designs.  With the copyright proceedings looming, Surayia tells us that she was advised to make her designs with a difference.  So … the single rhino is the hunting scene became two rhinos.  And the single lawyer in the courtroom gained a colleague.  As she tells us in one of the interviews that Mishuk Munier filmed in Dhaka:  “I never saw a courtroom before but I did a perfect courtroom scene, with two lawyers.”

For thirty years and continuing today, Surayia’s designs in both versions are the center of livelihoods for many artisans of Bangladesh.    The Threads film is a story that goes well beyond ‘one’ or ‘two’…it is a story of how one person, with creativity and sharing skills, can impact the lives of communities for generations.   The artwork is not the only legacy; it is the children who are schooled, the women who are empowered to buy their own land, and those who are teaching others to stitch beauty for a future.

"Raj" with one rhino.

“Raj” with one rhino.

"Raj" with two rhinos.

“Raj” with two rhinos.











Photos by Tino Sieland.  Used with kind permission of the owner.


Posted by: Len

Nakshi kantha tapestry commissioned for the opening of the US Embassy in Dhaka, 1989.  Surayia Rahman design.  Photo: Anil Advani.

Nakshi kantha tapestry commissioned for the opening of the US Embassy in Dhaka, 1989. Surayia Rahman design. Photo: Anil Advani.

The May edition of State Magazine was posted online today, and it was a pleasure to see Surayia and the women of Arshi in two places: the table of contents (page 3) and in an article I wrote for the magazine on page 32.  Anil Advani’s iconic photo of Surayia in the midst of her “girls” says so much with a single image.

It is gratifying that both the Foreign Service Journal and State have found the film project interesting enough to publish articles.  Members of the Foreign Service community — from the U.S., Canada, and other countries as well — have always been strong supporters of Surayia and her art.  The Canadian High Commission in Dhaka gave the first small grant that got Skills Development for Unprivileged Women going; the U.S. Embassy commissioned Surayia to do work that now hangs in the Embassy; three U.S. Ambassadors that we know of have and display Surayia’s work in their homes, as do many other current and retired Foreign Service members.




Posted by: Len

Tareque Masud.  Photo from his Wikipedia entry.

Tareque Masud. Photo from his Wikipedia entry.

Next weekend New York University will be hosting a two-day retrospective of the works of Tareque Masud at the Tisch School of the Arts, 721 Broadway in New Your City.  Catherine Masud, his widow, will be speaking at the event.  We will not be able to attend but encourage all of our friends in the New York area to do so.  Tareque was an excellent film maker, someone whom we respected and from whom we learned.

Tareque and Catherine were supporters of Threads from the beginning, when the project was just an idea and before it even had a name, and we are and always will always be grateful for their help and advice.  We are also grateful for their introduction to cinematographer Mishuk Munier, who made a profound impression on us in the brief time that we knew him. Mishuk and Tareque worked closely together and you can see Mishuk’s work in several of the films that will be shown, including Runway, Tareque’s last completed work.



Posted by:  Len

The last few days have been hectic but very positive.  Soon after an announcement went into the local newspaper about our talk at the Silver Cinema series, Cathy and I were contacted by a journalist asking if he could interview us about the film.  We agreed, and he came by to talk with us on Monday the 18th.  As he was going back to his office he mentioned that the article would appear in two day’s time, on the 20th.  Sure enough, we found this article Wednesday morning.  The print edition also included one of Anil Advani’s beautiful portraits of Surayia (see below).  The electronic version of the article has already been shared multiple times by friends on Facebook.  Thank you!

On the 21st, we gave a presentation about Bangladesh, nakshi kantha and the film project to a very supportive community group in Gig Harbor.  Thanks to everyone for your attention and most importantly for your enthusiasm.  We really feel it and appreciate it.  And please keep spreading the word.

We continue working with Rita Meher editing the rough cut of the film.  Cathy recently recorded some narration for Rita to add to the  film to have a better idea of timing and length of scenes.  All very exciting.

Surayia, photographed by Anil Advani.

Surayia, photographed by Anil Advani.




Posted by: Len

Surayia and some of the women of Arshi.  Photo copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC.

Surayia and some of the women of Arshi. Photo copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC.

International Women’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on the example set by Surayia and the women of Arshi.  Talent, creativity, and lots of dedication and hard work allowed them to build much better futures for themselves and their families.  Artisan enterprises like Arshi employ significant numbers of people — primarily women — around the world, and are an important source of income that permits self-sufficiency.

It is good to see that my former employer, the U.S. State Department, has joined with other like-minded institutions to establish the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise.  I hope this initiative helps to focus attention on artisans worldwide, today and during Women’s History Month, and also that it helps convince people to support living artists and to buy the handmade goods that they produce.

Posted by: Len

We’re looking forward to talking about Surayia, her art, the amazing artisan enterprise that she created with the women of Arshi, and showing the film trailer at the Mustard Seed Project of Key Peninsula’s Silver Cinema Series on March 17.  See you there!

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