Making Kantha, Making Home
Women at Work in Colonial Bengal
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.