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: Cathy and Len

Collage of quilts from the "Why Quilts Matter" homepage.

Collage of quilts from the “Why Quilts Matter” homepage.

We recently had the chance to watch a very interesting nine-part series called: Why Quilts Matter.  Hosted by Shelly Zegart, the series of half-hour programs covers the history, art and politics of quilts and quilting, primarily in the U.S., as well as collecting quilts and the market for them.  There is a segment devoted to the quilts of Gee’s Bend, which we were first exposed to several years ago through an excellent documentary film of the same name.  Why Quilts Matter is informative and well worth watching.  We checked the DVDs out from our local library; PBS stations in the U.S. have rights to air the series through 2014, so it may be broadcast where you live — check your local listings or ask your local PBS station.  You can also buy the DVDs online.

We knew from our research for Threads that there were more than 20 million quilters in the U.S.  Why Quilts Matter goes into detail on the numbers and economic impact of quilting.  It was also interesting for us to learn more about how quilt shows in Japan attract huge numbers of attendees.  Going back to our research for Threads, some of the first customers for the “nakshi kantha tapestries” that Surayia designed were Japanese, and throughout her career Japanese customers were consistent buyers of her work.  Reflecting the strong interest that people from Japan have shown in her,  about 10 years ago the Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh interviewed Surayia on video about her life and work.

Not long after we watched Why Quilts Matter, Cathy had the opportunity to have a conversation with Shelly Zegart.  Shelly is even more engaging and interesting in person than she is on film.

Why Quilts Matter got us thinking about the many quilting traditions around the world, including nakshi kantha in Bengal.  Quilts in North America are now being documented and valued as both historical objects and art.  Will that happen for other quilts before the traditions are lost?

Posted by: Len

Update:  for some reason our hyperlinks on this post — other than for Tumblr — aren’t working properly.  They are listed at the bottom.  Sorry for the inconvenience until we get this fixed. 

At the urging of several friends and supporters, Cathy and I have set up a board on Pinterest, where we add items of interest on women, kantha, quilts, embroidery, fiber art, and whatever other topics strike us as interesting.  We’re thinking about other good topics for Pinterest boards:  film making, Bangladesh, development issues — who knows?  Suggestions are welcome!

Our friend Sitara Ahmed has started a Pinterest board on nakshi kantha, which we follow and enjoy.  Surayia’s designs have certainly been influential on contemporary nakshi kantha, as we note a number of sites offering for sale versions of her original designs — almost always without her knowledge or permission.

Threads:  The Art and Life of Surayia Rahman is also on Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr.   Stop by and give us a “like” or a +1.  See you soon.

The missing hyperlinks!  You can cut and paste these into your browser.

Threads Pinterest:

Threads Facebook:

Threads Google+:

Threads Tumblr:    http://

Nakshi Kantha Pinterest:

Posted by:  Len

We have posted on the Threads Pinterest board this very good infographic about the importance of investing in women and girls prepared by the US Agency for International Development.  Surayia’s story is one of investing time and talent in a group of women who were considered by many not worth helping.  By sharing one’s skills, an individual can make a huge difference in the lives of many.  In Surayia’s case, she not only was able to raise and educate her own family with her art, but gave the hundreds of women who worked for her the chance to raise and educate their children.

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

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

Posted by: Len

Our friend Javed Haque brought this article from the Dhaka Daily Star to our attention.  It describes the origins of kantha quilts and talks as well about the post-1971 revival of this traditional rural household activity, motivated by a desire to create income-generating projects for rural women and widows of Bangladesh’s independence war.  Surayia played an important part in the revival of kantha through her re-imagining of it as an art form.  Interestingly, this took place in Bangladesh at about the same time that quilting in North America was undergoing a transformation with the creation of art quilts meant primarily for display rather than use.

The photos in the article are from Living Blue, which we mentioned in May in connection with a presentation hosted by Maiwa in Vancouver, British Columbia.

While the Daily Star article does a good job of explaining the process of creation and rightly identifies individuality and imperfection as vital elements of traditional kantha quilt, I am uncomfortable with the attitude the author seems to be expressing about the limited intellect of rural women in Bangladesh.  True, many do not have formal education, but that would not necessarily keep them from having an understanding of the symbols in the art that they created.

What do you think?