'Carmona's Talking Quilt' Is A Visual Project That Pays Tribute To Goan Oral Traditions

Carmona's Talking Quilt
Carmona's Talking Quilt Berta Elisa Viegas & Savia Viegas

Savia Viegas, a multifaceted artist born in the Goan village of Carmona in 1958, is renowned for her diverse talent — as a journalist, art historian, museum curator, teacher, and also the founder of a pre-primary school, Savia's life is woven with threads of intellectual curiosity and artistic expression. But beneath this impressive professional repertoire lies an intimately personal inter-generational tale deeply intertwined with the art of embroidery and what’s what we shall dive into today.

An article by Herald Goa mentions how growing up in Goa, Savia’s childhood unfolded against the backdrop of her mother, Berta Elisa Viegas, a skilled seamstress who possessed a magical touch with needle and thread. Her mother taught stitching and embroidery to several young women as during that time embroidery was seen as a solely feminine activity that was compulsory to learn. Young Savia was captivated by the world of her mother’s craft. She wanted to learn the craft, to create her own stories with thread and fabric.

However, her mother, perhaps foreseeing a different future for her daughter, gently steered Savia's path toward academics. While a part of Savia yearned to follow in her mother's footsteps and explore the world of embroidery, she respected her mother's wishes and diligently pursued her studies. As years passed, Savia left Goa and embarked on her own journey of professional and personal discovery.

"My mom, however, retained every article featuring me and my work, clarifying the fact that she wanted me to reach heights, and not just be a full-time embroiderer in Carmona."

Savia Viegas, in an interview with Herald Goa

Though embroidery remained a cherished memory, it wasn't until her return to Goa that Savia found herself reconnected to this forgotten passion. When Savia returned to Goa from Bombay in 2005, she brought with her a hoard of denim jeans, all used and outgrown, remnants of her sons’ childhood when they were aged ten to eighteen. Instead of discarding these, Savia’s mother decided to upcycle them and the idea of a denim quilt bore fruition.

"We collected an additional stack of outgrown jeans from nieces and nephews, all in the same age group. In surrendering their previously-loved and worn garments to up-cycle, they also ceded a slice of their life, dreams, and aspirations."

Savia Viegas, in an interview with The Navhind Times

While Savia got engaged with various projects, her mother began decorating the salvaged fabric scraps. By December 2003, after the seams were opened and restitched, the small, rectangular pieces began to resemble a cohesive work. A few months were then dedicated to crocheting borders and joining everything into a quilt.

Savia's decision to use denim is particularly interesting. Although the use of denim might seem like a simple choice, it holds deeper meaning. Denim was highly sought-after in India during the 1950s. The material, once a symbol of progress and modernity, now becomes a tool for preserving the past. Each stitch and embroidered design breathes new life into the discarded and forgotten.

Carmona's Talking Quilt
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Savia, after her mother's passing in 2015, decided to revisit and rework the quilt during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the base of the quilt was completed by March 2023, she continued to embroider some of the embedded stories throughout the remaining year. This quilt forms the centerpiece of the ongoing exhibition titled Carmona's Talking Quilt at the Museum of Goa. Many of the symbols on the quilt and the accompanying oral stories represent wisdom once widely shared but now fading due to a decline in storytelling traditions.

"But the core of these stories had happened in real-time and may have been embellished by the teller to increase its appeal and retention. What I have done is merely separate these stories from the motifs and symbols on my mother’s quilt and hand embroidered them,” shares Viegas, adding that rather than paint the stories, she chose to embroider them, because this art was perceived “as women’s work and was reified in the artistic hierarchies."

Savia Viegas, in an interview with The Navhind Times

Savia, in an article by The Navhind Times, clarified that the title doesn't have a literal connection to the village itself. However, Carmona holds a special place in her heart, a place steeped in history. She described Carmona as a 500-year-old village that was once a wasteland used to graze horses. Though somewhat tamed by settlers, it remained a remote village known for its rice production and high number of young men entering the seminary. Savia, having grown up in this conservative village filled with ghost stories and girls who embroidered to attract potential suitors, understood its essence deeply. As a writer and artist, she sought to capture this essence in the exhibition.

“Yet, in its ordinariness, I find it is a unique village for it was; the first to raise its voice against mega projects in a village, a move which set the alarm bells ringing all over Goa. It was a village that shifted the whole focus from insider/outsider diatribe to issues of real modern development of infrastructure, disposal of waste, sanitation supply of water and electricity,” she says. As Goa is full of semi-urban villages like ours, what I explore in this microcosm could represent the larger picture of Goan rurality which is fast vanishing, even in South Goa."

Savia Viegas, in an interview with The Navhind Times

Viegas believes that quilting serves as a powerful, under-recognized archive of women's narratives throughout the world. Many of the ten tales on the quilt made by Savia and her mother had previously been formally undocumented.Through Carmona's Talking Quilt, she reveals how these textiles can unearth hidden stories of family, community, and ancestral wisdom. Attend the exhibition and come witness the magic for yourself! It is on view till the 28th of this month.

Follow Savia Viegas here.

Follow Museum of Goa here for more such interesting exhibits.

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