Over the next months, Len and I would like to share with you some of our experiences as new filmmakers.  Watch our blog for the ups and downs, the serendipity that we have experienced since we started this project and the joys of virtually meeting so many fine people connected with Surayia’s life.

How did we get into this, you ask?  It all started over a café conversation with a professor at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design – Lesley Armstrong  – who asked “What ever happened to that woman whose incredible tapestry was displayed during the exhibition of Bangladesh textiles you had in Halifax in 2005”?  We talked about our friend Surayia, how she had to give up her passion for creating art when her health failed, and how there was little documented about her fascinating life and art history.  Lesley looked me straight in the eye and said “You have to make a documentary about her.”  “I will find a filmmaker to make it,” I replied.  “No, you have to make it”.   And so began our journey…..

Let me introduce you to Lesley whose own artistry – handwoven drapery – was recently installed at the 32-storey TELUS Center in Toronto.

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Are you a weaver?  If so, please let us know what interests you about this film, and what you would like to see in it.

I received good news that Farah Ghuznavi – with whom I worked at the United Nations Development Programme in Bangladesh – has just released a short story in Woman’s Work, a diverse collection of short stories by forty women writers that promises to be an interesting read.
Congratulations Farah!

Early in my time in Bangladesh, Farah introduced me to her mother, Ruby, from whom I have learned so much about textiles, natural dyes and craft.   Ruby and her team at Aranya Crafts have worked steadily to preserve and promote the rich cultural and artistic heritage of the region and, in the process, have touched the lives of thousands of people.  During our recent film shoot in Dhaka, we interviewed Ruby about nakshi kantha embroidery and Surayia’s role in its evolution.

Anil Advani, who has been helping us so much in photographing Surayia’s work in Bangladesh, recently joined Surayia and others at the US Embassy in Dhaka to document the two nakshi kantha tapestries that Surayia completed about twenty years ago for the US Embassy building in Bangladesh which opened in 1989.

One of these tapestries is a “one of a kind” piece, designed by Surayia after she had witnessed the cutting of the ribbon at the Embassy inauguration ceremony.

The other is a series of 9 panels based on designs of architect Louis Sullivan.  Surayia recollects that the designs were sent to her as small photocopies.  She chose the threads and supervised “her girls” to embroider them for the Embassy opening.

Many thanks to the US Embassy for preserving these special kantha tapestries!

(The images are clickable for larger views)

I recently spoke with Dr. Niaz Zaman of Bangladesh, one of the world’s foremost experts on kantha embroidery who we interviewed for “Threads” during a film shoot in Dhaka in April.  She will be giving a special lecture about the evolution of kantha on Sunday, June 13, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art:  The Kantha: From Bedroom to Boardroom.  Dr. Zaman was with Surayia not long ago at the US Embassy in Dhaka where Surayia’s work was being photographed.  More about that in our next post.

Also…..while at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, don’t miss the exhibition “Kantha” which runs through next month.   Len and I visited the exhibition earlier this year and highly recommend seeing the almost forty kanthas collected by Stella Kramrisch and by Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz.

They came to her, over roads and over rivers, for inspiration, for guidance, for work. She is Surayia Rahman, a self-trained, passionate artist who guided hundreds of women from disadvantaged backgrounds to create masterworks – exquisitely embroidered tapestries that have been gifted to dignitaries and are admired in collections throughout the world.