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A Century of Kanthas: Women’s Quilts in Bengal, 1870s–1970s

Through January 1, 2024

Like quilts around the world, kanthas embody thrift, labor, and imagination. Women in Bengal (modern-day Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal, India) created kanthas for a host of reasons—as ritual seating, bedcovers, baby swaddling, and much more. Most disintegrated with household use, but many that survived are now heirlooms that carry women’s individuality and love for their families across generations.

This exhibition brings into conversation two types of kanthas: nakshi (ornamented) kanthas and galicha (carpet) kanthas. The nakshi kanthas on view, from between about 1870 and 1930, are made on layers of soft, white, repurposed fabric embroidered with meaningful motifs in a delicate palette and often covered with rows of parallel white running stitches. Galicha kanthas, produced especially in the 1950s and 1960s, are thick, uniformly rectangular quilts with vivid cross-stitch embroidery in intricate geometric forms on a surface of new cloth backed by upcycled fabrics

Main Building


A Century of Kanthas: Women’s Quilts in Bengal, 1870s–1970s is made possible thanks to the support of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and their gift of a significant collection of kantha textiles.


Dilys Blum, The Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles; and Darielle Mason, The Stella Kramrisch Curator of Indian and Himalayan Art, Head of the Department of South Asian Art

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