Jul 15, 2011-Sep 25, 2011

Soulful Stitching

32 striking patchwork quilts made by Siddi women, heirs to the culture and values of Africans brought to Goa on India’s west coast beginning in the 16th century.

While they have adopted and integrated many cultural aspects of the Indian peoples with whom they have lived for generations, Siddis have also retained and transformed certain cultural and artistic traditions from Africa. Soulful Stitching provides an opportunity to explore the African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World through these colorful and vibrant quilts that demonstrate how cultural forms and traditions have been adapted throughout the Diaspora.

Gradually, the Siddis escaped slavery by the Portugese and moved southward into the remote Western Ghatt mountains of Northern Karnataka in order to create free, independent African diaspora communities. While they have adopted, adapted, and integrated many aspects of Indian cultures, Siddis have also retained and transformed certain African traditions. In the visual arts, one tradition stands out: the patchwork quilts known as kawandi.

Used as both mattresses and covers, kawandi are made by women for their children and grandchildren. Walking through a Siddi village, kawandi are seen draped over fences, hung on lines, or spread on low roofs to be aired in the sun. Yet they are practically unknown outside Siddi communities, even within India.

Mixing together a vibrant array of well-worn clothing fabrics, Siddi quilts are highly individualistic, yet quilters share many clear and precise opinions about quality, beauty, and the need to “finish properly” the corners with triangular patches called phulas, or flowers. Catholic and Muslim Siddi women sometimes incorporate crosses or crescents in their designs, and baby quilts in particular are often bejeweled with lots of small, colorful patches called tikeli.

This exhibition is co-curated by Dr. Henry J. Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Sarah K. Khan, Director of the Tasting Cultures Foundation. Dr. Drewal first saw kawandi while documenting Siddi expressive culture in 2004. All of the quilts in the exhibition are by members of the nonprofit Siddi Womens’ Quilting Cooperative, which is keeping this tradition alive and vibrant

Siddi quilts are highly individualistic, yet quilters share the need to “finish properly” the corners with triangular patches called phulas, or flowers.