I accompanied Cathy and Len back to the Salesian Sisters’ House in Monipuripara yesterday, without anticipating the treat that was in store for us. After we’d been there a short while, Sister Elisabeth asked if we would like to see the original Surayia scrolls… I think all three of us gasped and went “YES! please!” before Sr. Elisabeth could even complete her sentence. The girls were asked to bring in the wax-paper scrolls, and there they were : each small detail painstakingly hand drawn by the great artist herself. Some of the scrolls are large as the work table, around 5′ x 8′. Surayia’s fine work with attention to the minutest of details [expressions on faces, tiny objects, the veins on the leaves] had us in awe. The free flowing but precise pencil work had us going “look at this bit” and “look how the hands of this person gesture“.

Sister Joseph Mary: Photo by Anil Advani.

Then, on to see Sister Joseph Mary at the Holy Cross School and College nearby. The sun was almost down, the large waxy moon hung behind the massive Rain Tree in the garden. The gate-keeper struck a brass gong loudly once, startling us. This is how they announce visitors for a particular Nun. “One gong” was for Sister Joseph Mary to know that she had visitors. Sister greeted us and we hurried, before it got too dark,  to go look at the carved doors of the Holy Cross Hall which had been designed by Surayia Rahman. First, into the great hall to view the iron work grilles off-set by the deep inky blue evening sky. The massive and solid teak doors are carved with “Shapla” [Lotus, the national symbol of Bangladesh] and “Doel / Doyel” [Magpie Robin, the national bird]. We then proceeded to look at the small original Surayia wood-carving from where the door designs were taken. The room was full of artwork, works of Bangladeshi artists and students of the school and college. An oil painting by Surayia as well….

All along the way; Sister Joseph Mary gave us a running comentary on each piece, who painted it, when it was painted, on what occasion, snippets about the art, her life in Bangladesh….
I probably missed a lot while trying my best to photograph everything as quickly as possible, and to keep with the fast pace! 

Blogged by Anil for KanthaThreads.

The lane in front of the Salesian House. Photo: Anil Advani

Len, Anil and I took advantage of the very light traffic on the afternoon of the Eid al-Adha to drive downtown for a visit to Sister Elizabeth and the embroiderers working at the Salesian Sisters house in Monipuri Para.

With Anil at the wheel, we found the house, down a narrow street, and were warmly greeted by Sisters Elizabeth and Joseph, Bangladeshi members of the religious order started originally in France.  The first group of Salesian nuns who came to Bengal in the 1870s died of disease.  Another group came in the 1920s and founded convents, which now number ten in Bangladesh.

Sister Elizabeth and the Salesians carry on producing Surayia’s designs, which she gave to them at the time she became unable to work.  Surayia’s embroiderers continue to work with Sister Elizabeth, living at home and coming to the convent regularly to pick up materials, turn in finished work and receive payment for tapestries sold.  Other young women, primarily members of the Garo and Tripura ethnic groups, live at the Salesian house and are able to earn a living doing extrememly fine embrodery.

A sample of the fine embroidery at the Salesian House. Photo: Anil Advani.

Meeting Sister Elizabeth in person, after watching her interview in our film footage many times, was a real pleasure!

Sister Elizabeth. Photo: Anil Advani.

The Seventh South Asian Regional Ministerial Conference Commemorating Beijing issued the Dhaka Declaration on October 5, 2010.  In the declaration, South Asian nations noted that “violence against women continues to remain a priority concern” and agreed to “expedite work on implementing the … Convention on Preventing and Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.”  The declaration said that “legislative and policy initiatives to attain women’s equality need to continue” so that women in the region can be empowered financially and gender inequality removed.

"Women of the World Fight to Live."

The 10th Anniversary of the Gig Harbor Quilt Festival did the heart good.  Not only were there stunning quilts all around us, there was loads of energy toward breast cancer cure and care.

Sandra Gicomini’s quilt “Women of the World Fight to Live” (pictured above) reminds us that breast cancer kills around the world.   As I listened to brave women tell of their journeys with cancer, my thoughts went to Bangladesh and to Rahima.  Rahima has cancer.  She is one of the most talented embroiderers who worked with Surayia since the early 1980s, who created so many incredible tapestries for over 20 years.   Len and I will see Rahima in mid-November in Bangladesh, and I will pass along messages from each and every one of you who wants to send her a message of hope.    Hope is part of the cure, and would it not be great for Rahima to know that there is a world of women (and men) behind her!    Pass the hope along…..

The photo is by Susan Burnett,  copyright by Memories Forever.  Used with permission.

I phoned my friend Margot to wish her a happy birthday and she mentioned a film festival that she in involved with in her community to raise money for Soroptimists. The Soroptimist motto is “Best for Women” – “women at their best helping other women to be their best.”   Just as Surayia did, there are so many women in this world who are encouraging others and sharing their talents  — bravo! to you all.

Please share your stories of women helping women so that we can all be inspired by them.