Our handicrafts almost act as pieces of history, inscribed with all the social changes in the subcontinent through the course of several centuries. India beholds its culture through the survival of these traditional handicrafts, imbibed with plural aesthetics and kept alive by skilled artisans. One such diverse and complex form of embroidery, built on sustainable practices originates from Bihar and is used as a form of storytelling.
Sujani embroidery has been the expertise of women in rural India and acts as a means for them to stay self-reliant. The craft originated in the 1920s as a form of necessity, where patches from discarded fabrics such as sarees and dhotis were used as the canvas for stitching. This usage of old clothing speaks to the green practices followed in rural India, before the rise of conversations around fast consumption and waste material.
The design inspiration for the embroidery highlights the artistry hidden in the needlework. Sujani incorporates motifs inspired by nature such as the sun and clouds; signifying life-giving forces as well as sacred animals and fertility symbols. Over the years the colourful pieces have taken the art of storytelling to another dimension, with motifs offering social and political commentary.
Women wield their needles to critique multiple patriarchal structures such as child marriage, domestic violence, the purdah/ghoonghat (veils) system and the ongoing practice of dowry. This transformation of the craft acts as a means of empowerment by giving women a voice.
The Indian craft has also helped develop a sense of community, with over 600 women practising the embroidery from Bhusara Village, Bihar; taking Sujani embroidery outside the boundaries of their homes and revitalising it as a means for earning a daily wage and providing women with a sense of purpose as well as independence.
Find pieces incorporating Sujani embroidery here.
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