Currently on display in our ground floor Spotlight Gallery is a small exhibition of traditional Bangladeshi embroidery. It was produced last year by a group of ten women who participated in the project Kotha & Kantha: Bangladeshi Women’s Memoir held at Manchester Central Library and run by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Education Trust and Centre (AIUC). Project Administrator Jo Manby explains more about the project and what it set out to achieve.
Kotha & Kantha was devised to gain new work for our library and also to help the participants tell their stories in writing and embroidery. We hope the project outputs will also increase the wider community’s knowledge about migration, history and culture.
We invited Dipali Das to be the Writer in Residence for the project. She has written her own pieces based on aspects of the AIUC’s collections and archives relating to migration and she encouraged the participants to share their experiences of living in Bangladesh and Manchester through poems, drawings and memoir. Lynn Setterington, Senior Lecturer in Textiles in Practice at Manchester Metropolitan University, also ran workshops with the group, using traditional Bangladeshi embroidery techniques to produce vividly patterned stitched panels. Photographs of the women and the workshops were taken by professional photographer Jason Lock.
The names for the project have specific meaning in Bengali. We used Kotha & Kantha to imply ‘stitches and lines’, referring to embroidery and writing. Kantha is a type of embroidery from Asia, especially Bangladesh and West Bengal. Kotha can mean several things: to speak / to tell / to reference, etc. Dipali chose the title Kobitha & Kahini: Bengal to Britain, A journey through poems and stories for her volume of text – a sister volume to the writing she produced during her residency at the AIUC which contains short stories, poetry, a Bengali folktale, a recipe, radio plays and script excerpts. Kobitha and Kahini is inspired from the enjoyment a Bengali person experiences when telling a story or listening to one. Kobitha is the Bengali word for poem and Kahini is an all-encompassing word for stories.
During the project many stories were shared. The meeting room in Central Library was filled with chatting and laughing as the attendees formed new friendships and continued existing ones, and talked over their experiences of leaving Bangladesh and coming to Manchester. We chose to work with the Bangladeshi community because 2016 marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, the Bangladeshi boy murdered in the playground of a local Manchester school, and in whose memory the Trust and Centre are named.
The project produced several outputs including: ten traditional kantha embroideries, a bound volume of the women’s writing featuring poems, folktales, drawings and recipes; and eight full length photographic portraits of the women printed onto sheer fabric. Lynn Setterington said of her work during the project, “I have explored Kantha stitching for many years and became known for this way of working. Being involved in Kotha and Kantha reconnected me to this part of the world and as a result I chose to create a sewn map of Bangladesh; in doing so it signposts the fact that this beautiful but precarious land was the common ground for all those involved in the project.”
Kotha and Kantha was funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England – Grants for the Arts Award and supported by Archives+, the University of Manchester, The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Education Trust and Ananna Manchester Bangladeshi Women’s Organisation.
The exhibition continues until 10 August 2017 in the Spotlight Gallery on the ground floor of All Saints Library.
All photographs with permission of Jason Lock. No further reproduction without prior permission. Jason Lock Photography contact +44(0)7889 152747, +44(0)161 4314012, firstname.lastname@example.org.