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Kantha quilts, along with the artisans who created them, are featured in a “dazzling” display at the International Quilt Study Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.   “South Asian Seams,” now on through November 7th, is curated by guest curator Patricia Stoddard and IQSC curator Marin Hanson.  How refreshing to see an exhibit that not only displays beautiful works but also tells of the lives of the women who created them!

Dulali -- Design by Surayia Rahman, Photo by Cathy Stevulak

Today I received a note from Alla in Armenia.  I had met her several years ago on my travels there, and her note reminded me that I took with me a small piece of Surayia’s nakshi kantha tapestry during that visit.    I recalled going to one of the fascinating street art markets in Yerevan and coming upon a man making picture frames.   Could he please make me a small frame for this embroidery that I had brought such a distance in my suitcase?  He kindly picked up the piece and delivered it framed to my hotel.   Here it is – the heroine Dulali of Gypsy Wharf, the tragic love story by Jasimuddin – framed in Armenia.

When I look at this small, complex piece of hand embroidery, framed by a simple piece of wood, and now located far from where it was embroidered and framed, my thoughts travel to the universality of art, and art as a means of livelihood around the world, as well as to the powerful Gypsy Wharf story of love despite ethnic frictions.

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.