Kheta – An Exhibition of Embroidery Expression by the Shershabadi Women

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There still are pockets in our country that are hubs of untouched and heritage art forms. Kheta is one such artistic expression that is exclusively practiced by the Shershabadi women from Krishanganj district in Bihar. Kheta are embroidered quilts with geometrical motifs. And bringing them to the limelight is the Kheta Exhibition 2022 held at the National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy, New Delhi from 4th March 2022 – 3rd April 2022. 

About Kheta and the Shershabadi women

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The Shershabadi community originally settled in the land given to them by Emperor Sher Shah Suri in the Malda district of Bangladesh. The community over the years migrated westwards along the rivers and today is settled in Krishanganj and other neighboring districts of Bihar and Bengal in India. 

Though similar embroidered arts, such Kantha from Bengal and Sujnis from Bihar are well-known, Kheta has largely remained elusive and undocumented. It is an art that has been passed from one generation of women to another. In fact, Kheta is so intrinsically woven in their daily lives, that the Shershabadi women do it every day whenever they get time, in between their household chores and responsibilities. 

The Kheta quilts are made from stitching and layering a few old recycled clothing, such as saris. The quilt are made using a needle and thread and their designs are inspired by natural patterns and geometric motifs like flowers, flowing rivers, betel leaves, movement of earthworms, basketry and more. However, over the years the Shershabadi women have developed their own unique quilting techniques of pure geometric forms, avoiding the figurative descriptions of Sujni and the circular patterns of Kantha. 

The social and cultural facets

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The Kheta quilts are usually used as blankets for newborn children or as mattresses for newlywed couples. Unlike, many other embroidery and quilting techniques, the Kheta quilts are designed single handedly by one woman alone. Each Kheta quilt is a signature style and design of one person. Also, the art of learning this form of embroidery and quilting is taught to as little as 10 year-old girls. Young girls pick it up and continue to create differently designed quilts throughout their life. 

However, another interesting cultural detail is that the community usually makes the Kheta quilts only for their personal use. It is a symbol of a women’s understanding and abilities. It is a skill that defines their role in their society and community. The Kheta pieces are, in fact, priceless possessions that are gifted to the daughter when she gets married or when she has children. 

But the Zamin Astar Foundation and Azad India Foundation in the last four years have been doing extensive work with the Shershabadi women artisans. And their efforts have hugely impacted the potential of having an international presence as well as fuelling grassroot level entrepreneurial ventures.

Many women from the community are looking forward to the myriad opportunities that their skill and art can help them unravel. They see the monetization and selling for their quilts as a way of helping them become financially independent. However, the Kheta quilts still remain an intrinsically personal and passion pet project for the Shershabadi women. 

About the exhibition

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The Exhibition is in collaboration with Craft Museum & Hastkala Academy, Delhi and in academic partnership with Indian Institute of Art and Design, Delhi, organized by Zameen Astar Foundation and Azad India Foundation. The exhibition will have a display of embroidered (quilted) products in textile gallery, workshops by the Shershabadi women for educational Institutions to learn the craft, expert talk(s), and film screening/audio visual sessions providing insights into the Shershabadi community and culture as well as sale of Kheta Products from the Museum Shop.

The Kheta project has been envisioned and documented by Saumya Pandey, Associate Professor, Course Leader Fashion Design at IIAD and a Co-founder of the Zameen Astra Foundation in collaboration with the Azad India Foundation from Kishanganj.  

The students of IIAD (Indian Institute of Art and Design) are also lending a helping hand. They were introduced to the Kheta craft cluster as a part of their Craft and Film making project. They worked with the women artisans to investigate their connection between technique and expression. The students under the leadership of various professors have worked towards documenting the craft, exploring the creation of livelihood avenues for the Shershabadi women and also preserving the craft itself. They have also helped in conceptualizing and designing the exhibition space and creating invites and invitation videos that spread the word. 

Summary
If your interest in the Kheta quilts has been piqued then the month-long exhibition is a must visit. Learn about this unique art and the women behind it all. Note the details below:

KHETA: An Exhibition Of Embroidery Expressions by the  Shershabadis
Venue: National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi 
Date: 4th March 2022 -3rd April 2022
Time: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

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