Quilt Art Turns Heads. From Beds to Masterpieces

The pandemic triggered lockdown helped many women and children to nurture their quilting talent making, rendering Chennai the capital for the lucrative quilt art.
The pandemic triggered lockdown helped many women and children to nurture their quilting talent making, rendering Chennai the capital for the lucrative quilt art.

Imagine your bed covering quilts adorning your walls as a work of art in a new avatar. Thats’s exactly what “The Many Faces”, a quilt art exhibition in Chennai introduced many to. A display of around thirty stunning works of art from across India redefined the common perception about quilt and highlighted its artistic potential beyond its role as a bed.

Making heads turn was a portrait of the Dalai Lama, by Kuppulakshmi Someshekar.  The Chennai artist specialising in quilt portraits told tellmystory.in “I love portraits, I do oil portraits. I thought this will be right for me to explore.” She lived in Africa for ten years and her works are largely made of African fabric. Also showcased is her other portrait “Mary and Melisha” telling the story of her friend Mary who helped her in Uganda and her daughter. “I take around four weeks for one art and I work for around three hours a day” she added.

Priyanka Gopalaswamy’s work on Musician Jimmy Page on his guitar stopped music lovers. Her two other  art works on show  include a portrait capturing her parents at their favourite home garden, first time after her dad’s surgery. Sharing her experience of giving life to quilts she says “It’s cathartic, challenging and extremely rewarding”. On her style she says “It’s random and different. The colour and technique depend on the inspiration and what I convey.”

Also on display drawing special attention Seen as a special work of art is “Princess Me” by five-year-old Isha George who had made use of her Quilt Artist mother Chitra’s fabric scrap. Isha says “I love this. Unlike mobile phones this doesn’t spoil my eyes. I like my creation. My mother did not allow me to use scissors. My sister too helped me.”

A few artists also use quilt art powerfully for what many call “artivism”, portraying  contemporary social issues like Me-Too, sexual violence and  the pain and  trauma of returning guest workers during the lockdown. “Mangled” by Dr Aiswarya Rao captures the  the gang rape of 19 year old Dalit woman from Hathras, UP who was left to die on the field.  Dr Aiswarya Rao, who’s also a Pediatrician said “For me quilting is a deeply contemplative exercise. It helps me to reach deep within myself and make sense of what’s going on around us when nothing makes sense.”

With around 200 Quilters Chennai has emerged to be the Quilt Art capital of India. The Quilt India Foundation had held its first India Quilt Festival in 2019. It went virtual in 2021 amid the pandemic and the community is working for the 2023 edition. Tina Katwal, Director, Shows, Quilt India Foundation says “We want you to see quilt is not just a craft, but an art. It can be on your wall, not just bed. We are also reaching out to children through schools to popularise this.”

Quilt  art is also turning lucrative with a good demand for portraits. On what it takes to become a good Textile Artist Chitra Mandanna says “One thing you need to know is the values of colours, I mean the tones of the colour. Unlike painting you can’t just mix colours and create colours you want in quilt art.  You need to find the right colour fabric for that. Wherever I travel I look out for and buy any fabric that catches my interest.”


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