Friday, March 19, 2010

Life Gives the Story

I stumbled upon a beautiful story about a Bangladeshi needle artist named Surayia Rahman who has spent her life helping hundreds of women escape from poverty in Bengal through needle and thread.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

A story about one woman, using her hands and her self-taught artistry, who created a place where women, some of them living in mud huts, could come and be paid for their work and learn to be better embroiderers.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

They embroidered their stories on Nakshi Kantha, a traditional folk art quilt that is embroidered and passed down through generations. It was accidental. "I didn't plan to do it for women," she said. "They just started coming." And when they came, she gave them what they needed.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

Surayia Rahman became an icon in the kantha tradition and elevated the embroidered quilt to a whole new level of artistry through her personal oversight regarding the quality of the designs, the embroidery and the materials used to create these amazing stories.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

She started a skills development project and developed a market for her embroideries, having sold many of the works to travelers and visiting dignitaries, diplomats.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

When asked about her work she says, "You will find them in the world, but not in my house." I love that.

I first learned of her story through a wonderfully-woven story by Bianca DiBiase called The Accidental Saint on the HandEye blog. Go there and read this story when you have a few minutes -- it's worth your time.

Surayia is now in her late seventies and her health no longer allows her to embroider. There is an effort underway led by Cathy Stevulak and her husband Leonard Hill, friends of Surayia's, to locate and catologue Surayia's work and to produce a documentary of her life's story. You can read more about their efforts at their web site Kantha Threads. They need assistance in raising money and awareness so that this project will become a reality and Surayia's legacy will not be lost. They also have a mailing list for you to join if you are interesting in following and learning more of Surayia's story.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

All the photographs you see here today are by Anil Advani who I believe did a magical job of capturing images that told a story. As someone who struggles to capture my love for needle and thread with my images, I believe I have stumbled upon a master and I am grateful to her for allowing me to share her pictures with you.

Coincidentally for me, there is a current exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and the Stella Kramrisch Collections through July 25, 2010. If you can't get there, there is an online gallery of the 43 kantha on their website for you to explore.

"Life gives the story." Surayia said to Bianca as she interviewed her.

Indeed it does.

Photos copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC, used with permission

And our hands have the power to tell it and change the world.


Maureen said...

Lovely story Susan! She has a kind and loving face. If I could embroider half as good as those working with her I'd be happy!

Silver Sisters said...

This is gorgeous! I am linking to this on my blog sometime today.

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

This was a wonderful tribute to a kind and loving soul. What a lovely woman she is.

Her story was fantastic and I think I will also link to your blog and the other one as well.

Thank you for sharing her story for all to read.


Catherine said...

What a lovely story - thanks so much for sharing!

Carol- Beads and Birds said...

What an amazing woman. The embroidery is unbelievable.

Without the internet, her story may have never been told. Sad.

Sheila said...

Wonderful story Susan! I just finished reading a book called "The Art of Mentoring" by Shirley Peddy - fictional, but interesting and thought provoking. Just goes to show how one person can make all the difference in attitude and spirit and leadership.

BTW, as an unbiased observer, I thought those photographs were yours! ("Wow! Susan just got back from India?!") These photographs have the same luminous light and joy that infuse your pictures, too...

Anonymous said...

This reminds of a wonderful book my daughter and I read a few years ago about a girl in India who learns to support herself through her embroidery. The book is Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan - a good quick read even for adults (takes less time away from your stitching)
Thanks for your lovely blog - it is a bright spot in my week!
P.S. Sorry I'm anonymous - I can't remember my google password...

Dees said...

What a beautifull story, what beautifull work.
Thank you for sharing. The story you linked to is so overwhelming and heartwarming.

Judy S. said...

What a wonderful story, Susan. Thanks for finding it and then taking the time to share it!

Gerry Krueger said...

How do you find all these wonderful links... I love the picture of her hands. And I the care evident woman to woman.

Hugs Gerry K.

jayashree venkat said...

Thanks Susan for the write up.Its indeed an Achievement and A Golden blog to my collection.Will add to the links on this story.We have a long way to go.

Marnie said...

Reading this gave me chills!

Thanks for my daily dose of inspiration.

Rachel said...

Lovely - thank you for telling this story!

Unknown said...

Yes, an inspiring story. My first impression, though, was "What beautiful white hair!" My own is unevenly graying and thin on top. There's some envy here. And, I'm curious why she wears a white sari. I enjoy the colors in the other sari's. Does the white indicate a particular status? I doubt you know, Susan. Just wondering. The embroidery is beautiful and interesting and wonderful with story.

Anil said...

White saris usually signify that the person is widowed. In this case, that’s correct.

Lisa Boni said...

What a fascinating woman and amazing handwork done by these women! Intriguing story. How do you always manage to come up with such interesting things to share? Love it!

Ingrid Mida said...

What a beautiful story of generosity and hope! Thanks for sharing it.

Barbara C said...

Thanks for sharing these beautiful images and amazing story.

Joan - South Island, New Zealand. said...

A truly beautiful story, encouraging to us all.

Lynn said...

Awesome - I'm off to read more....thanks for sharing!

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