Nakshi Kantha with Mahamaya

First day of Kolkata and we visited Mahamaya, a third generation Kantha artist and National award winner who has made some masterpieces including Ramayana with Kantha.

“Illustrations makes for a Naksha on Kantha which is the stitched layered fabric” explains Mahamaya. Kantha stitch is typically a long running stitch however there is innovation now and Herringbone, Satin and Button stitches are being used. Browsing through her pile I came across one that her grandmother had made, a 70 year old piece with natural colours.

Kantha is a way of storytelling through geometric patterns, figurative narratives and floral illustrations. Mahamaya talks about her process and shares that she like to draw first on the fabric and then go by her instinct to fill colours into a piece of work. “There are works that take years to make. Sometime I do the border and then another artisan fills the space inside. Reds and black were traditionally used but now there are more options in colours. I look for Inspiration in other forms of art as well like looking at books and museums. During my mother’s time, they used to pull out threads from old saris to embroider but now I use anchor thread. I also collaborate with other artisans like Kashmira, who I have worked with for 16 years is in the craft for tradition and that’s a skill that get her money.

She has trained artists further and taught as well to preserve the art. Speaking of innovation, Mahamaya likes to experiment with the base fabric like cottons and tussars. There is a lot of scope where the artist could bring themselves in the work with experimentation within the technique. Some of her new projects include graphic inspiration and also a mix of techniques like applique. A new series being developed is the Kamasutra panels. Mahamaya shares that most of the works are commissioned art pieces like recently sold to Reliance foundation at the swadeshi bazaar, but some orders of wearable art in dupattas or bed linen keep the workshop running.