Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India
The Siddis of Karnataka, India are the descendants of both early African immigrants to South Asia and enslaved Africans brought to Goa on India’s west coast by the Portuguese beginning in the 16th century. Gradually, they escaped slavery and moved southward into the remote Western Ghatt mountains of Northern Karnataka in order to create free, independent African Diaspora communities. While they have adopted, adapted, and integrated many aspects of Indian cultures, Siddis have also retained and transformed certain African traditions. In the visual arts, one tradition stands out: the patchwork quilts known as kawandi.
Mixing together a vibrant array of well-worn clothing fabrics, Siddi quilts are highly individualistic, yet quilters share many clear and precise opinions about quality, beauty, and the need to “finish properly” the corners with triangular patches called phulas, or flowers. Catholic and Muslim Siddi women sometimes incorporate crosses or crescents in their designs, and baby quilts in particular are often bejeweled with lots of small, colorful patches called tikeli.
This exhibition is curated by Henry J. Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Exhibition Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday. For exhibition information, call (212) 491-2200. No admission fee; contributions and memberships are welcome.