"Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts of Africans (Siddis) in India," on View in Harlem at New York Public Library's Schomburg Center, thru June 30

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Launches Schomburg's Exploration of African Diaspora in Indian Ocean World

In a wide-ranging, in-depth exploration of the rarely known but centuries-old African presence in the Indian Ocean world, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library, is presenting the major exhibition Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts of Africans (Siddis) in India; public forums led by internationally known scholars; films illustrating the African Diaspora’s reach into India; and a concert performance of live Bhangra music. In addition, The Schomburg’s new website, The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World, is scheduled to launch next month.

“The voluntary and forced migrations of East Africans through the Indian Ocean are little known by the general public,” says Dr. Sylviane Diouf, historian and Schomburg’s Curator of Digital Collections. “They are quite different from those that took place across the Atlantic. The upcoming website will show how, in India, for example, some Africans became founders of dynasties, prime ministers, military commanders, builders of cities and monuments. With unique images, essays and videos, it will shed much needed light on the African Diaspora from Arabia to Iraq and Iran, and from Turkey to Pakistan and Sri Lanka.”

Curated by Dr. Henry J. Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India features 15 striking patchwork quilts of Siddi women, heirs to the culture and values of Africans brought to Goa on India’s west coast beginning in the 16th century. “While the Siddis, who number about 18,000 in the state of Karnataka, have adopted, adapted, and integrated many aspects of Indian cultures, they have also retained and transformed certain African traditions and, in the visual arts, the tradition that stands out are the beautiful patchwork quilt known as kawandi.”

“Mixing together a vibrant array of well-worn clothing fabrics,” says Dr. Drewal, who has spent several years researching, observing and documenting the Siddi women’s work, “the quilts are highly individualistic, yet quilters share many clear and precise opinions about quality, beauty.”

In addition to the quilts, the exhibition also presents the photography of Dr. Drewal which captures Siddi families and the quilters in their majesty carrying on the tradition of their ancestors, shaping scraps of memory into great functional heirlooms.

Saturday, April 23, 4pm:
Film Screening- From Africa to India: Sidi Music in the Indian Ocean Diaspora (U.S., 2003, 74 minutes/Producers/Ethnomusicologists: Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy and Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy.) According to Fritz Umbach, John Jay College, City University of New York: “The film conveys the region's complex heritage by braiding together contemporary music and dance performances in African-descended Sidi communities from Gujarat to Karnataka with a narrative of both Sidi history and their current status in present-day India.”

Saturday, May 14, 1pm:
Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert Series Presentation - Red Baraat, the first and only dhol ‘n’ brass band in North America. RSVP required at 212.491.2040. Led by dhol player Sunny Jain, Red Baraat melds North Indian rhythm Bhangra with a host of sounds, including funk, go-go, Latin and Jazz. (The dhol is a double-sided, barrel-shaped North Indian drum slung over one shoulder.)

Saturday, May 28, 4pm:
Film Screenings:
We’re Indian and African: Voices of the Sidis (22 minutes, 2005, filmmaker Beheroze Shroff). This documentary explores the lives of the Afro-Indian of Bava Gor village in Gujarat. Men and women talk about the challenges of their work as caretakers of the shrine of their ancestral saint Bava Gor. They also discuss their sacred Goma-Dhammal dance as it is performed for devotees and for spectators.

Voices of the Sidis: The Tradition of the Fakirs (28 minutes, 2005, filmmaker Beheroze Shroff). African descendants in Gujarat discuss their tradition of the fakir or itinerant holy man who goes through neighborhoods chanting, singing and blessing those who give alms. Older fakirs express anxieties about passing on this tradition, especially the playing of the malunga, a sacred musical instrument.

Seats must be reserved for ALL screenings by email at schomburgrsvp(at)nypl(dot)org or call 212.491-2229. RSVP (212-491-2040) is required for the May 14 Red Baraat concert.

The Schomburg Center location: 515 Malcolm X. Blvd. in Harlem. Subways: #2, #3 to 135th Street. Exhibition Hours: Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Sunday. For exhibition information, call (212) 491-2200. No admission fee; contributions and memberships are welcome.

Note to Editors: Soulful Stitching: Patchwork Quilts by Africans (Siddis) in India is on exhibition at the Schomburg Center concurrently with Harlem Views/Diasporan Visions: The New Harlem Renaissance Photographers, through June 30, 2010.

About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a research unit of The New York Public Library and recognized as one of the leading institutions of its kind in the world, is currently celebrating its 85th year. A cultural center as well as a repository of some 10 million items related to the African American and African Diaspora experiences, this Harlem-based modern research library also sponsors a wide array of interpretive programs, including exhibitions, scholarly and public forums, and cultural performances. The Schomburg Center collects, preserves and provides access to materials documenting black life, and promoting the study and interpretation of black history and culture.

Press Information: Bernice Elizabeth Green, schomburgpr(at)nypl(dot)org, 212-491-2209

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