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How historian Anitha Reddy revived Siddi crafts.

Meet the Karnataka textile art that keeps traditional Siddi quilters alive.

“About ten years ago, I embarked on a journey through the beautiful forests of the Western Ghats in Karnataka. My destination was a village called Analesara, where I was warmly welcomed as a guest in a friend’s home. During my stay, the women of the household presented me with a hand-stitched patchwork quilt, which they had skillfully crafted specifically for visitors like myself. It was a wonderful gesture that made me appreciate the artistry of quilting practiced by the Siddi community, who are of African descent and reside in many villages in the area.

Being an art historian and practitioner, I felt an immediate connection to these quilts and wanted to learn more about their origins. This curiosity led me to engage in conversations with quilters from one village, which eventually opened doors to interact with more Siddi communities. Through these interactions, my understanding of this tradition deepened and I became even more passionate about preserving their quilting techniques.

For the past seven years, I have been collaborating with Siddi women to ensure the transfer of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Together, we have worked towards commercializing their craft, allowing them to showcase their artistic creations in mainstream markets through exhibitions and sales. This has not only provided financial support to their families but has also empowered women within the community to explore their creativity and skills as artists and creators.

It is important to note that the term ‘Siddi’ refers to individuals of African descent residing in India. The Siddis arrived in India during the 16th century, believed to have traveled from Mozambique as soldiers and slaves on Portuguese trading ships.

Anitha N. Reddy, a community-based art practitioner, curator, and photographer, has been awarded a Project Grant from the Karun Thakar Fund. She will be collaborating with Siddi women quilters in Karnataka to breathe new life into this age-old craft. Through her project “Mosaics of Cloth: Finding Meaning in Material,” she aims to create one-of-a-kind textile art pieces.

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