Making Kantha, Making Home
Women at Work in Colonial Bengal
- PUBLISHED: July 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: Art History / Asian Art, Asian Studies / South Asia, Art / Textiles, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 284 Pages, 7 x 10 in x 0in, 103 color illus.
- SERIES: Global South Asia
- ISBN: 9780295746999
In Bengal, mothers swaddle their infants and cover their beds in colorful textiles that are passed down through generations. They create these kantha from layers of soft, recycled fabric strengthened with running stitches and use them as shawls, covers, and seating mats.
Making Kantha, Making Home explores the social worlds shaped by the Bengali kantha that survive from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the first study of colonial-period women’s embroidery that situates these objects historically and socially, Pika Ghosh brings technique and aesthetic choices into discussion with iconography and regional culture.
Ghosh uses ethnographic and archival research, inscriptions, and images to locate embroiderers’ work within domestic networks and to show how imagery from poetry, drama, prints, and watercolors expresses kantha artists’ visual literacy. Affinities with older textile practices include the region’s lucrative maritime trade in embroideries with Europe, Africa, and China. This appraisal of individual objects alongside the people and stories behind the objects’ creation elevates kantha beyond consideration as mere handcraft to recognition as art.
Authors & Contributors
Pika Ghosh is visiting professor of religion at Haverford College. She is author of Temple to Love: Architecture and Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Bengal, editor of Fashioning the Divine: South Asian Sculpture at the Ackland Art Museum, and coauthor of Cooking for the Gods: The Art of Home Ritual in Bengal.
Ghosh’s monograph elevates kantha as a living tradition that enables women to express their own agency. Her treatise deliberately deviates from the 19th century intellectual engagement with kantha by art curators by going beyond the surface-level of the kantha as a decorative piece of cloth and speculates the intentions of the women behind these handiworks.- International Examiner
A carefully crafted, well-written, insightful, and scholarly book that offers its readers intimate engagements with the material and social worlds of Bengali kantha.- Rebecca M. Brown, author of Displaying Time: The Many Temporalities of the Festival of India
Ghosh’s approach, really for the first time, takes kantha far beyond their standard treatment. The book bypasses old and increasingly outmoded distinctions between art and craft/folk art, blending art historical and ethnographic approaches.- Susan Bean, author of Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India after Independence