South Asian Heritage Month & Shetland textiles

Saturday Aug 06, 2022

In the UK, South Asian Heritage Month runs between 18th July and 17th August.

This month sees the 75th anniversary of the Partition of India, which took place in August 1947. With it came devastating consequences for the inhabitants of the two newly independent dominions, India and Pakistan.

Overnight, some fifteen million people became refugees because of a new border that effectively became a partition on religious grounds. If they found that their home was on the Indian side of the border, Muslims abandoned it to move to Pakistan; Sikhs and Hindus fled Pakistan for India.

One million people died in the ensuing violence.

 

An older indian woman wearing a white sari, in front of a whitewashed wall and window
One of the millions of people displaced by Partition: my grandmother.

Members of my family were caught up in the chaos and had to move hundreds of miles to a new home. In the simplest terms, it was all because of a line drawn on a map.

While thinking about the experiences of my relatives during Partition, I started looking at how line and borders appear in a landscape. Manmade, imposed lines can be hard and fixed. But natural borders can be shifting or permeable—like the ebb and flow of the tide.

 

On the shore at Hoswick, Shetland. The tide is low and is still receding, to reveal pebbles of various sizes on the wet sand. It's a grey day with some frothy waves, but in the distance there is a green headland.

On the shore in Hoswick, Shetland, where Nielanell is based.

In Shetland, the pebbles that are revealed by a receding tide are called ebb-stanes. This became the name of a knitwear collection, which fuses together inspiration taken from my home in Shetland (Scotland’s most northerly archipelago) and my South Asian heritage.

My knitwear is often described as wearable art, and my artistic approach to design can bring with it unexpected narratives—which are embedded into my garments.

 

An asymmetric jumper with batwing shape and long ribbed cuffs is shown on a vintage mannequin, blowing in the wind. The jumper is cream with grey irregular dots and a dark red line travelling from the shoulder to the bottom edge. In the background a tounge and groove shed door, painted blue.

An Ebb-stanes triangle jumper. These are made here in Shetland by skilled local craftspeople. We hand-finish every garment in the Nielanell studio.

Across a background of ebb-stanes, a meandering line is ‘drawn’ in wool (each line is done individually—none are the same). And with it we are reminded of the impact and human cost of the mappings and borderings of natural landscape.

It is difficult for me to fathom why there appears to be an appetite for more hard borders, now.

A close up image of a finely knitted textile. Within the design, pale sky blue irregular-shaped dots are arranged on a background of marled yellow ochre. Across the fabric travels a thin, meandering, azure blue line - in a chain stitch. Because the fabric is not laid flat, and has rumples in it, the fabric begins to a resemble a rolling landscape of hills and mountains, with the line like a border or river.

The colour and placement of each line is chosen individually.

This South Asian Heritage Month we are remembering the Partition of India. We would be so interested to hear if your family was also affected by it.

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South Asian Heritage Month was founded in 2020 by physician Binita Kane and barrister Jasvir Singh with the aim and motto ‘celebrate, commemorate, educate’.

 

 

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