Shamlu Dudeja, founder and chair person, S.H.E Foundation, recently commemorated 30 years of her reviving and fighting the cause of Kantha – elevating this humble embroidery stitch from relative obscurity to a celebrated decorative art – with what else but with a definitive fashion show Chief Guested by former governor of Bengal M K Narayanan and ITC GM Atul Bhalla.
Kantha is a type of South Asian embroidery, especially Bangladesh and parts of West Bengal and Odisha whereby old sarees are stacked on each other and hand-stitched to make a thin piece of cushion.
Models walked the ramp in Kantha creations created by fashion designer Paromita Banerjee Sarkar, with jewellery by Neha Agrawal, the event being choreographer Nayanika Chatterjee. Isheeta Ganguly closed the show with a rendition to which the Friends of Kantha walked the ramp including ITC GM Atul Bhalla and wife Kangan Bhalla, danseuse Tansuree Shankar, Laura Amalir (spouse of director Alliance Francaise du Bengale Stephane Amalir), Meeryung Hall (spouse of the US Consul General in Kolkata Craig Hall), actor Arjun Chakraborty and wife Neelanjana Chakraborty, academician Gouri Basu, Neha Agrawal, MP Lok Sabha Dinesh Trivedi and wife Minal Trivedi and former Governor of Bengal MK Narayanan with wife Padmini Narayanan.
Prior the show a short film on was shown and academician Gouri Basu, Principal, Loreto House, resplendent in trad attire speaking about the history of Kantha said, “The concept of Kantha is all about conservation of the culture. It is about recycling and reinventing – object produced of unmatched beauty formed the tangential cultural heritage of Bengal.”
An overwhelmed Shamlu said, “Kantha story is all about a little stitch. It is based on a running stitch. Today Kantha is appealing to women all across the world. When Kantha started, women were not paid for it. As stitch art Kantha has not only delved into the mythology but also modern representations.”
Former Governor M K Narayanan went on to add, “I look upon Shamlu as part of these smart, capable and intelligent women who make up India and Calcutta is lucky to have someone like that. After having met Shamlu, it took me almost four years to realize the kind of efforts that go into creating these masterpieces and how much work one single woman has put into it to make it a success.”
Following the fashion show, UshaUthup took to stage to sing to an audience also comprising danseuse Aloknanda Roy, business personality Sandeep Bhutoria, US Consul General to Kolkata Craig Hall, actor Ramanjit Kaur and Honorary Consul to the Royal Norwegian Consulate Nayantara PalChoudhury among others.
About Kantha and S.H.E
In the 1980s, Dudeja ran across some women at a craft market using the 600-year-old kantha stitch to make wall hangings. Women traditionally used kantha to sew together old saris to make blankets. But it reminded Dudeja of the stitch she used as a child to decorate her mother’s sleeves, and she persuaded the women to use it to embellish saris. As demand for the revived stitch grew, she founded the nonprofit SHE (Self Help Enterprise) to train and pay women in rural Bengal, who previously had little opportunity for employment, for their kantha stitchery.