NEWS:Indian Quilts Showcase Women Views

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Subject: NEWS:Indian Quilts Showcase Women Views
From: Jyothi Kanics (
Date: Mon Apr 26 1999 - 12:32:34 EDT

Friday April 23 1:41 PM ET

Indian Quilts Showcase Women Views

By KALPANA SRINIVASAN Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Reviving an ancient craft with a modern twist, women in
India's Bihar state
are creating vibrant quilts that tell stories about the rural women who
designed them and some of
their most pressing concerns - from female infanticide to prostitution.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is showcasing 30 such quilts, made
communally by
women in the Bhusura village in Bihar state. ``The Narrative Thread:
Women's Embroidery from
Rural India'' reveals how a traditional art form once nearly abandoned has
been revived to empower
women both economically and socially.

The art of embroidering quilts, called sujuni kanthas, belonged to
upper-caste women in Bihar and
Bengal states in the 18th and 19th centuries. The quilts were known for
their exceptionally fine
stitching and intricate patterns. But by the mid-20th century, the craft
had all but died out.

In 1988, a non-profit organization called Adithi decided to breathe new
life into the traditional art as
a way of giving rural women a source of income. They have been selling
their designs - with detailed
patterns and brilliantly colored threads - to boutiques in India's major

The women, who transcended various social castes to work together, have
transformed the quilts
into more than just their livelihood.

``Stopping the Spread of AIDS'' depicts village women arming their husbands
- who are headed to
the town brothels - with condoms. At the same time, the quiltmakers, who
also seek to force social
change, use the bottom half of the quilt to show the women breaking up a
prostitution ring enslaving
young girls.

In ``Too Many Boys,'' the women suggest how even one of their village's
bleakest problems - female
infanticide - can correct itself to their advantage. The quilt traces
midwives feeding salt to kill baby
girls. But men soon outnumber the women, and the males must show their
adulation to gain female

A 20-minute accompanying video shows the quiltmaking process from sketching
on cotton cloth to
filling in the designs with embroidery. Stitching one figure alone can take
as long as four days, say the
women. But some of the women also poignantly express how the project has
influenced their lives.

One quilt chronicles the life of Phoolan Devi, India's legendary ``Bandit
Queen,'' who was accused
of massacring 20 villagers after being held prisoner and repeatedly raped
by men of a higher caste.
The quilt captures this traumatic experience in pieces where Devi is shown
naked. But it also exults
in Devi's comeback: After serving time in jail, she won a seat in the
Indian Parliament. A helicopter
symbolizes her success.

The women celebrate their economic liberation in ``Sujuni Making,'' a quilt
that illustrates the men of
the village taking steam trains to the cities along its border. In the
center, the wives are doing their
part as breadwinners, busily stitching away.


The exhibition is at the National Museum of Women in the Arts until May 9.
It later travels to the
Palo Alto Cultural Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Paine Art Center in
Oshkosh, Wis.

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