Thursday, 25 June 2015

Sujani craft (Deccan Herald, 31 May 2015)


At the needlepoint

Juanita Kakoty, May 31, 2015, DHNS
Rural crafts
Stitch in time A 'sujani' embroidery work depicting village life.

I was struck by pieces of cloth depicting Madhubani art in stitches at the Design Haat organised by the Apeejay Institute of Design in New Delhi. Meera Jha, a 55-year-old artist, sat in the midst of a group of foreign students seeking to learn the craft from her. Black, broad-rimmed glasses rested on the bridge of her nose, as she applied a running stitch to what was sketched out on a cloth. She told me that this is the sujani stitch from the Madhubani region of Bihar.

Sujani has an interesting story. Meera told me, “I’ve been practising this craft since I was 10 years old. I am from Madhubani in Bihar, and I learnt sujani from my mother. In those days, girls were not sent to school. We stayed home and learnt to cook and stitch from our mothers and aunts. They said this is what would come of use when we got married, when people would say how nice this girl is, how much work she knows! We were made to study a little though in the confines of our homes. Sujani, traditionally, has been used to prepare blankets or quilts, as people in villages were not rich enough to afford mattresses or beds. Earlier, the threads used for stitching were pulled out from the borders of old saris and dhotis.”

I pointed towards a huge rectangular piece of cloth hanging behind her and asked if that was a quilt. Meera said, “This is simply for wall decor. Here, I have used sujani stitches to tell tales from the Ramayana. And a few of my sujani works are on display at museums in India and Japan.” I looked at the piece intently and saw the depictions of Ravana arriving at Sita’s cottage; Sita coming out to offer bhiksha; Ravana carrying Sita off; Ravana and Jatayu fighting in the air; Hanuman with his tail aflame… all these in one fascinating canvas. She informed, “People interested in sujani are now more keen on buying works that depict some story.” Because of this, sujani holds great aesthetic value as customers buy it for display.

Meera has been teaching sujani to Indian and foreign students at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, as well as in Anandgram, New Delhi. And she reveals with great pride that she has displayed her sujani works at Pragati Maidan at least 10 to 15 times so far. Her husband Umesh also practises the art form with her. He started much later in life to augment his wife’s gaining popularity. This is interesting because, traditionally, men in Madhubani never practised stitching.

“We have been hosting this Design Haat as an annual event since last year,” informed graphic designer Ashit Sarkar, who has been working with the Apeejay Institute of Design for the past 15 years. “The idea is to create awareness about the design throughout India and abroad, and to promote Indian art. A lot of Indian art like patachitra, sujani, etc. is dying. To survive they have to come out in contemporary forms. The Apeejay Institute facilitates interactions and exchange of design ideas between Indian and foreign craftsmen. Such collaborations encourage innovative and novel creations using traditional crafts. So, sujani, for instance, compared to 50 years ago, has more simplified designs now. Plus the stories are also not just from the epics anymore; contemporary stories are being portrayed.”

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