The Indian state of West Bengal and the country of Bangladesh are side by side. Together, they once formed the Indian state of Bengal, but when India was partitioned after the end of British colonial rule, the eastern half of Bengal was no longer part of India and eventually became the nation of Bangladesh. Despite being politically separated, West Bengal and Bangladesh still share many aspects of traditional Bengali culture, including folk arts such as kantha quilts.
Kantha quilts were traditionally made from recycled clothing, usually from the long, white, unshaped pieces of cloth that formed the wrapped garments worn by both men and women. These lengths of cloth were cut to the desired size, layered, and sewn together with running stitches to create a quilt. Colored threads were usually reserved for creating the figural designs such as fish, tigers, horses, paisleys, and lotus flowers—many of which were thought of as auspicious or lucky symbols. White threads were used to fill in the areas between the figures; the denseness of these stitches gives many kanthas a highly textured surface.
Both Hindu and Muslim women make kanthas, decorating them with religious symbols and using them in religious ceremonies. In addition to their sacred uses, kanthas also are used for a host of everyday purposes, including bed coverings, floor mats, and storage wraps.
Click images below to view larger and read more information about some of the quilts included in the exhibit.