Hands of otherness
Kantha mini quilt made of unbleached handloom cotton (Khadi)
Kantha is embroidery quilt usually made to reuse cloth, repurpose. Kantha embroidery is rooted in India, created by women as a communal activity, gather and make together. Mirror or Sheesha work, of embedding mirrors into embroidery is traditional in Indian embroidery. This was the right choice of work as the project was mainly based of women.
In this instance, the cloth, unbleached handloom cotton arrived from India which signifies my journey. Having lost my father recently, I started to sew, to self soothe and recover from the loss. This handloom cloth is of significance within our family and traditions.
Each participant was asked to draw an outline of their hand and design a henna drawing that could go on as embroidery. These outlines of hands taken from each participant, forms the patterns on the quilt. The quilt is divided into 4 corners, each corner depicting the stories of the women from being here and now, lived experiences, embracing the change and resilience and lastly making a home for the next generation.
The idea of handprint is drawn on the ideas of creating a home and positive new beginning. It is drawn on tribal art, made by women in India, as handprints on houses, temples and objects to ensure well-being of family and their belongings. Here the hand prints signify, being here and now, making a new home. The patterned embroidery on the hands alludes to the henna patterns. Henna/Mehandi is a ceremonial pattern made on hands of brides in South Asian cultures. On the quilt these patterns depict the stories, of these women, how they or their mothers arrived here, as partners of the economic migrants. These patterns depict the stories of their shared experiences, of loss, pain, loneliness and invisibility. These experiences were inherited as stories, passed down the generations, depicted through flow of lines, colours and stitches.
The quilt also depicts resilience in embracing the new home, retraining, bringing up the next generation. However, questions arise over seeing themselves in the wider society, mirror or sheesha work, speaks of being seen and being reflected. The many textural stitches barely visible, but hold and strengthen the fabric. It alludes to the work of women as mothers, arbiters of culture, volunteers in the community as unseen, unpaid.
Findings and recommendations
I’ve interviewed a group women of colour (predominantly South Asian, and of African descent) age group between 35 to 55. They work in NHS, teaching and other careers. They are mostly mothers, raising children in Peterborough. They moved to this city with their life partners (one of them put it down to ‘LOVE’). They are considered economic migrants, who have arrived here to work make economic contribution.
Their experience of culture sector in Peterborough has been minimal. They do not see themselves visiting museums, heritage places. They do not feel, this sector in the city has much to offer to match their own cultural background. Some have visited the Key theatre, to watch annual Pantomime. However, many travel to London and Birmingham for cultural experiences such as Art exhibitions and music concerts. They love the green spaces in the city, and enjoy visiting Nene Park and Ferry Meadows.
What I feel is Iimportant
- Most do not know what’s happening in the city. They felt unaware of events going on in the city.
- Many felt comfortable in the city due to its many diverse communities, felt that celebrating this diversity will be a good way forward.
- They strongly felt a need for of a dedicated community space, where they could meet others, celebrate or use for cultural events. Some women teach classical music and dance at home, a dedicated community space will offer many more such opportunities.
- Most of the women are the main inheritor of family traditions and cultures. Aware of their own food cultures, festivals and stories. They regularly volunteer to help out in organizing the events, share their skills and knowledge.
- Racism and daily micro aggressions is a common experience, many are not equipped to dealing with. it is a big issue for themselves and their children. Recognized the role of histories in dealing with this issue.
- There is struggle with loneliness, isolation and mental health issues. Many do not feel they can access activities to support themselves. Especially last year has been difficult for many, with COVID and travel restrictions.
- Most of the cultural events are organized by either by religious centers and volunteers within the community, financially supported by the respective groups. (South Indian New years celebration, Black history group)
- They find it difficult to see themselves or their children having opportunities in culture sector (arts, drama and music). They strongly believe, very few opportunities exist for this community, to share their cultural heritage. For example Indian classical dance is learnt by some children locally, but opportunities to perform are limited.
- A lack of opportunity for elderly to engage in arts and activities
- Recognised lack of opportunities to share their cultural offerings on shared platform?, for example someone offering Indian classical dance, where can they advertise?
- The culture sector needs to take into account the diversity of the city when taking programming into consideration
- Improve visibility of the cultural offering of the city, reach out to minority communities, make it safe space for minorities to engage with and enjoy.
- Offer a dedicated community space, where they could meet others, celebrate or use for cultural events.
- Recognize the contributions of this community in organizing the events, provide support to the volunteers.
- Provide opportunities for women to as bearers of cultural knowledge, to engage with histories and stories for the next generations growing up in this city.
- Alternative use for City center spaces that have been closed up as venues or communal spaces.
- It was suggested that a South Asian festival, similar to Italian festival would be a good addition to the city.
- Create opportunities to share and discuss diverse cultural offerings of the people of this city.
- Provide opportunity for children & young people to access and shared history ( for example. Celebrate Black and South Asian Histories)
- Create art activities to reach out to elderly women of colour in the city, make it a safe and space to meet.
Ashvini, Neelu, Gayatri, Temi, Saima, Jyothsna, Jonah, Anamika, Pooja.