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WORLDWIDE WEDNESDAY
Life in a global village.
Art Revival Brings Profit
by Antinous

   A thread. A needle. Some cloth. A bit of organization. That's all it really takes. In the northern Bihar villages of Bhusura, India, more than 600 rural impoverished women now earn as much as 1,000 rupees (about $23) monthly, having mastered the traditional craft of embroidering quilts or kanthas.

   In the 18th Century colorful kanthas were often used as gifts for festive occasions, but the craft of making them died out until it was revived by Adithi, a nonprofit group seeking to help poverty-stricken women.

   Working with a local group organized by a social worker, Adithi runs a training program to teach local women how to make the kanthas and helps them market them in Delhi and Mumbai boutiques.

   These kanthas quilts serve a purpose beyond providing a source of income. They also serve as a medium through which women can express their social and political concerns. In a culture that often the contribution that women can make, this opportunity to have some independence and create what they call "art of the mind" is much appreciated by these formerly sheltered women.

   After a 15-day training session with the group's designers, three experienced craftswomen from the Bhusura villages, the women are ready to go into production. After the designers explain the stories to be illustrated on the quilts--which sometimes look like giant comic strips--the workers then choose the colors they wish to work with and, in groups of three or four, concentrate on embroidering small areas of the quilt.

   The quilt designs deal with a range of issues reflecting social change struggle, from dowries to female infanticide, local elections to the spread of AIDS. Despite the serious nature of some of the designs, the large quilts themselves are vibrant with color and meticulously embroidered.

   Adithi says such employment is considered "appropriate" by fathers, husbands and in-laws because it does not take their women outside the private, domestic sphere. And, according to one woman, "There is now less fighting between husband and wife." She explained that previously women rarely left their homes and "men and women didn't interact at all." Now, she said, because of the work they do, women, have to move around more. "Women speak to men, and nobody thinks ill of this."

   Another young woman stressed the independence she has achieved because of the quilt project. "I have my own money," she said. "I can buy what I want without asking anyone's permission."

   One of the group's first members, Nirmala Devi, remembers the early stages more than 10 years ago, when this project was hardly taken seriously. "Our neighbors mocked us, and then when little money began coming in, people took notice. . . . Then word spread."

   Despite the apparent success of the project for these rural women, on both an economic and social level, there is no regular or fixed income given to them. Adithi is able to give the women disposable income only after it has sold their products for profit. Because of the sometimes political nature of the quilts, there is no guarantee of sales.

   The women do, however, receive orders for scarves and cushion covers from big city boutiques, but they scoff at requests for "ethnic" designs because they regard such work as dull.

   Other activities sponsored by Adithi and the local group in Bihar include a dairy cooperative and a fishery where women of low caste are now able to work.

   "The Narrative Thread: Contemporary Women's Embroidery from Rural India," a display of quilts from the project promoting women's employment and sustainable development, is at the Asia Society, Park Avenue at 70th St., through August 9.

ORBITALS!


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