By SEWA Hansiba Museum
Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) and SEWA Hansiba Museum
The Hansiba Museum is unlike any other. All the objects in the collection are heirlooms donated by various members of the collective. It is located in the neighbourhood so that it is still part of their collective heritage. It is a gathering place for women, created by women.
HansibaSEWA Hansiba Museum
The Hansiba museum is named after the woman herself: Hansiba, our major inspiration. She grew cotton in her own field, hand spun it, got it woven, hand dyed the cloth, and embroidered 16 different kinds of stitches.
This is our “Hansiba” museum’s embodiment. The women treasure their family heirlooms; the skirt that belonged to her great grandmother, or the blouse embroidered by an aunt who was renowned for the fineness of her stitches. Yet life and life-styles are changing - educated young girls get office jobs that demand urban clothing. So the women decided to build a museum and named it after Hansiba, one of the oldest craftswomen at SEWA.
Take a tour of the museum...
The Faces Behind the Craft
SEWA started organizing the women artisans and pledged three things: No woman seeking embroidery work would be turned away; all payments for work would be made in cash within ten days; and most important, sixty percent of the price of the product would go directly into the hands of the embroiderer.
SEWA Artisans Doing EmbroiderySEWA Hansiba Museum
Far from being unskilled, SEWA found the women to be highly skilled in traditional crafts. They constantly sewed, embroidered, and created works of textile art as dowries for their daughters. During tough times, they were forced to sell their precious embroideries to traders for a pittance, just to survive. If the women could come together, they could generate employment for themselves. By forming a producers’ collective, they could pool their resources, use their traditional skills to make products, and SEWA would help the collectives find markets for their products.
Bonding Through WorkSEWA Hansiba Museum
The women belong to several communities; chief among them are Ahir, Rabari, Kanbi, Mochi, Harijan, and Chaudhary Patel. Each community has its own craft tradition. For example Mochi women do leather work; Harijan women weave, and do applique. Both Ahir and Rabari women embroider, but their stitches and their mirrorwork is different.
Kanabi Patel Community
Kanabi women sitting together. The large embroidered sack is the kind used to fill with a daughter’s dowry. The dowry includes several embroidered garments and articles for the bride for daily use in her new home. A mother begins to embroider as soon as a girl is born, and pours her love and good wishes for her daughter’s happiness.
An Ahir bride's decorated home at night is one of the most colourful sights. The doors and windows are adorned with torans on the top, and on the sides with auspicious symbols and motifs from nature. The elephant-headed God Ganesha welcomes the visitor and removes obstacles; peacocks and parrots are familiar friends in the dry landscape, while the scorpion is hazard best kept at a respectful distance. Trees and flowers, cows and milkmaids are all signs of bounty. The women express their realities, their fears and their aspirations in their embroidery.
An Ahir bridegroom wearing a mushroo jacket, and a wedding hat lined with mushroo fabric. Mushroo is a dying art of the Kutch region which uses a combination of silk and cotton to weave fabrics. There are barely any families preserving this craft form now.
Festivals mean more brighter colours.
Ahir women use different mirror shapes in the fabric to make it more attractive and patterned.
Here she is dressed in the beautiful kamkho (blouse) and ghagharo (dress) for the Hindu festival Janmaashtami (commemorating the birth of Krishna).
The Ahirs, considered as the descendents of Lord Krishna are predominantly a pastoral community. One of the largest communities with over 10,000 members, the Ahirs practice an embroidery style locally called 'Soi Bharat'. Soi embroidery is known for the various shaped mirrors embedded in each design. Popular motifs include the peacock, parrot, scorpion, elephant, the milk maid and flowers.
The Rabaris are Hindu pastoralist nomadic community that are scattered across the deserts of western India. Traditionally, they earned their livelihood by grazing sheep and herds of cattle and buffaloes. The inhabitants of Radhanpur and Santalpur and adjoining areas in Eastern Gujarat belong to the Vagadia Rabari and Desi Rabari groups. The women of this community practice fine embroidery that has become eponymous. Religion is very important for the Rabari’s and one finds its influence in many of their daily use textile pieces, with motifs inspired from mythology and from their desert surroundings.
The women of this community practice fine embroidery that has become eponymous. Religion is very important for the Rabari’s and one finds its influence in many of their daily use textile pieces, with motifs inspired from mythology and from their desert surroundings.
The Rabaris are known for their distinctive embroidery style which comprises of bold shapes and a generous use of glass mirrors in various shapes: round, lozenge, rectangular, square, triangular, and beak shaped. To this, at times, they add appliquéd motifs in bright colours. Approximately 500 craftswomen in this region continue the tradition, handed to them over generations.
Rabari Men in a range of dothing.The children were a westem dothes, the old man is in all white, while young men wear colorfully embrooidered shirts.
The rabari men always had a white turban on their heads. It was a long piece of cloth and hence, when tied, looked huge on their heads. Rabari is a nomedic community and migrating with their cattle to the green area from dry area in summer and have relaxing time during home stay in monsoon and winter. The Rabari men relax in locally made Chharpai-bed.
Funeral and widow attire in India is generally white. A Rabari widow wears distinctly dark clothing with no surface ornamentation.
Chaudhary Patel community
The Chaudhary Patel community migrated from neighbouring state of Gujarat approimately 200 yers ago. Their ancestors belonged to the Anjane and before that the Aarbuda tribe. Hence they worship the Aabuda mata (mother goddess), their guardian deity, who resides near Mt. Abu in Rajasthan.
Blue, red and black are the major colors that is prevalent in garments of Chaudhary Patel females.
The women of this communty use combination of applique, patchwork and hand embroidery to create exquisite textiles.
Harijan women making patch work and applique quilts. Most women work in their homes; their patios and front yards are their workplace. These are members of SEWA.
Although the women embroider traditional garments for themselves, the market for traditional style of clothing is limited. So they embroider on kurtas and dupattas that are commonly worn by women in urban areas, but also explore new stitches and techniques on home furnishings like bed spreads and table cloths. The color palette for the urban market is also different, but the women find innovative ways to blend urban and rural tastes.
SEWA Artisans Discussing Digital Designing
Only skill doesn't guarantee the upkeep of one's living. Textile trends vary and the urban demands keep changing. The women artisans are shareholders of SEWA Trade Facilitation Center. They engage in regular discussions and get training on usage of computers. This helps them access vast amounts of information that they otherwise would not have come across. Here, they discuss he process of Digital Designing. Keeping up with the urban pace helps them sustain themselves in a better way.
In the Hansiba Museum various artisan members of SEWA , donated articles of their daily life — the grinding stone, the brass and copper vessels, the water pots and bathing vessels.
Hansibaben, for being an inspiration.
Text: Reema Nanavaty
Online exhibit setup: Parul Sagarwala, Tejas Raval, Neeta Trivedi