The Arts of Survival

Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster

Even in the face of catastrophe an artisan’s creativity never comes to a full stop. A new exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe examines how folk artists have helped their communities recover after the devastating effects of a natural disaster. The show documents the renewal process of how traditional arts and handicrafts are used to memorialize the lives of those affected and who died, but also as a key element of economic recovery.

According to exhibition curator Dr. Suzanne Seriff, “The Arts of Survival provides a window to the many ways contemporary folk artists use what they know best to respond to natural disaster with vision, perseverance, dignity, and imagination—even in the midst of political infighting, infrastructural log jams, and environmental after-effects. Through this experience they learn that the most fundamental power is the indomitable spirit of mankind.”

The exhibit opened just in time for International Folk Arts Week and the 8th Annual International Folk Arts Market running through July 8-10, 2011, but will continue to be on display through May 6, 2012. Highlights of the week’s events include art demonstrations, lectures with both the artists and museum personnel, and much more.
Among the many pieces of handicrafts highlighted in the exhibit include a series of ralli quilts that were hand-sewn by women in relief camps in Hyderabad, and from the Lila Handcrafts Cooperative based in Pakistan that use the profits from their sales to fund a primary school for members’ children.

The quilts are made in the southern provinces of Pakistan where by Muslim and Hindu women in towns, villages as well as nomadic settings. The tradition spans back to the fourth millennium BC. Rallis are designed with bright colors and bold patterns.  They are stitched from scraps of cotton that are dyed, the most common colors are combinations of black, white, red, yellow, orange, green dark blue and purple. The fabric is typically dyed and blocked by men in the communities. The quilts consist of layers of worn fabric and hand-stitched together with thick thread in straight lines.

There is a wealth of traditional patterns that showcase the colors used, but the basic styles include a patchwork of fabric torn into squares and triangles and hand-stitched together; appliques of cutout patterns in a number of shapes; embroidered quilts in which the stitches form patterns on solid-colored fabric.  Diagonal placement appliques are distinctive design factor to both the patchwork and applique quilts. Embellishments include mirrors, tassels, shells and embroidery.

The quilts play an important role in girls’ dowries where in many cases bringing numerous ralli quilts into a marriage is considered as a form of wealth. Rallis are typically used as covering for cots, floors as well as as storage bags or paddings for both humans and animals.

In addition to viewing the impressive assortment of rallis, visitors will have the opportunity to hear the voices of the women who made the quilts in the tent cities of Pakistan, as well as meeting the quilters from Lila Handcrafts Cooperative at the Folk Arts Market.

For more information about The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster and other handicrafts from Haiti, Indonesia, and New Orleans on display, please visit the museum’s website:



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