Patrick J Finn captures a rich abounding tradition of quilt-making across India.
There would hardly be anyone whose childhood was devoid of presence of quilts. Why childhood, quilts figure at every stage of life in Indian scheme of things. Despite their ubiquitous presence in our lives, we somehow forgot to look at them as a fine craft or was it because of their utilitarian aspect that we ignored their other finer attributes? . Patrick J.Finn’s “Quilts of India: Timeless Textiles” (Niyogi Books) is a work in this direction. A lavish book with 400 plus photographs, it tries to explore the practice of quilt-making across India. As Finn identifies various genres of Indian quilts, he also reveals the historical and social context in which they are made. He then decks up these stories with legends, poetry, first-hand stories and interviews of quilters’ to weave a compelling narrative of Indian quilts. Author, photographer Patrick J.Finn responds to a few questions on email.
How and when did you fall in love with Indian quilts?
I bought my first Kantha in 2005, which opened the door to discover other quilting genres.
What is it that makes Indian quilting traditions different from the others?
Indian quilting traditions are perhaps the oldest and most eclectic in the world, which sets them apart from other genres. In fact, traditions from other countries have their roots in Indian quilting. The early trade quilts, first made in India, were subsequently copied in Europe.
Why do you think that despite such rich quilting traditions, it remains not so talked about?
The Indian quilt developed from a simple background and was made by mendicants and fakirs. They eventually became part and parcel of the Indian material culture and thus not recognised as a noteworthy craft form.
How have you tackled such a vast subject?
The material for the book is divided by State. It was the easiest way to organize the vast subject. But these geographical boundaries can be problematic because Indian culture crosses those lines for example between Gujarat, Rajasthan and Pakistan.
Which are those rare unheard of traditions that you discovered and incorporated in your book?
Many of the quilting traditions in the book have not been previously documented. The woven sujani from Bharuch in Gujarat, the Siddi and Goan quilts stand out as not being earlier recognized.
Finn travels across India — Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa to discover various versions of quilts. At times it is known as ralli and elsewhere as gudari, ledra, dharki, sujani etc. Not just the technique, Finn also discusses at length the imagery a quilt-maker portrays drawing from mythical stories, cave art, rituals and paintings etc. From conventional ones like Jaipuri razai, Kanthas, Gudris of Rajasthan to lesser known ones like ledra of Jharkhand, sujni of Bihar, both of which are on their way back from near extinction.
In the chapter on Karnataka, Finn focuses on different tribes like Gondhali and Siddis who craft yet another stunning version of quilts called koudis, a patch-on-patch design. For Goa, he provides insight into the world of quilt-makers like the 97-year-old Hirabai Naik who is still at work. Interactive text with beautiful shots of quilts taken in their natural surroundings, of quilt-makers at work make it a very appealing affair.