In a troubled world, there is something deeply satisfying about a bestselling book being one about embroidery. The exquisite art form of Kantha embroidery, traditional to West Bengal and Bangladesh, is the subject of the 2016 top-selling book in the UK from Bangladesh…
The Art of Kantha Embroidery By Niaz Zaman (University Press Ltd, Bangladesh)
Niaz Zaman’s full length narrative history of Kantha Embroidery tells a story that is both intriguing and uplifting. The book is full of high quality colour images of Kantha needlework spanning hundreds of years of Indian history, so will be of interest to fans of design and art history. The content is also fast paced and personal, telling the story of a living tradition now endangered by the modern world.
There was a time when every woman in rural Western India would practice Kantha embroidery. The style is characterised by a soft running stitch around the edges, and a patterned interior that ranges from simple crosshatching to ornate depictions of birds and flowers. Being a Muslim majority region where artistic depictions of humans and other living creatures are not officially sanctioned, many Kantha designs feature cursive and geometric patterns of mesmerising complexity.
Traditional Kantha embroidery was used for making shawls, bedspreads, pillows and quilts. These items were precious and labour-intensive, so would be treasured within a family and repaired when necessary. Today, the Kantha craft has been threatened by mechanisation, with the old cottage industries almost disappearing.
However, contemporary, machine based Kantha techniques have done a lot to keep the tradition alive, at a time when many other old crafts have become lost. It is a story familiar throughout India; and indeed anywhere in the world that goes through industrialisation and experiences an influx of people from the countryside to the cities.
Kantha patterns are now used more widely than before, allowing complex, multistage patterns to be applied to saris, shirts, bedding and other garments. Kantha embroidery is still a matter of national pride in Bangladesh, and traditional needlework is frequently sold to tourists as souvenirs.
In other parts of the world folk art became dissociated from its peasant roots and became the domain of a sophisticated urban bourgeoisie. William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Movement in 19th-Century England is a good example of this in the West.
Kantha embroidery, however, has somehow retained its soul and its reputation as an art form of the people. Kantha fabrics have adorned the homes of people from all social classes in Western India, from the villages to the palaces of princes. This continues to be the case today, offering hope that we are not seeing the death of Kantha, but merely the transition into a new artistic phase.
We stock The Art of Kantha Embroidery: The ISBN number is 9789845061032 and the price is £37.99.
Find Out More About Indian And Bangladeshi Books
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