At Pacific Asia Museum, Pakistani artist communicates with quilts

The artist Naina will demonstrate how she makes traditional Pakistani textiles through Sunday at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. The artist-in-residence event is intended to be part craft demonstration, part cultural exchange.
(Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

Sitting atop a low table draped in a geometric quilt, Pakistani textile artist Naina intently stitches a red-and-blue block. For the next hour, she works nonstop, finishing the intricately detailed appliqued square as a fascinated audience looks on.

The artist, who is in residency at the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena through Sunday, uses no patterns, photos or drawings. “It’s in her head,” said her husband, Surendar Valasai, who serves as her interpreter and is chief executive of the Lila Handicrafts collective she represents.

Indeed, when Naina goes to create a new patchwork block, she simply tears up strips of cotton, folding the fabric and cutting it like one would a paper snowflake. Naina speaks no English, so the demonstration in the museum’s courtyard is intended to be a cultural exchange through the language of craft, with visitors learning not only about Naina’s textiles but also about life in Pakistan.


Naina hails from Tharparkar, a remote desert region where most live in poverty. The women in her collective create the traditional designs, called ralli quilts, over the course of many months using vibrant cottons. Valasai said that with the publication of books such as Patricia Stoddard’s “Ralli Quilts: Traditional Textiles of Pakistan and India,” the designs have grown in popularity, giving the women the economic means to send their children to school.

PHOTOS: Naina and the ralli quilts

Hina Abidi, president of the Pakistan Arts Council at the Pacific Asia Museum, worked for two years to bring the couple to America after meeting Valasai on Facebook.

“I value my handcrafted pieces from Pakistan more by meeting the people behind the artworks,” she said. “I really wanted people to see and meet the artists.”

Valasai, Abidi and others from the Pakistan Arts Council will be present throughout the weekend as Naina demonstrates ralli quiltmaking. Examples of Pakistani craft will be for sale, including quilts, hand-embroidered dowry bags, pillow covers, table runners and wall hangings. Abidi demonstrated how a bag for snake charmers worked.

“I always wanted to see the snake charmer when I was a child,” she said, laughing.

All proceeds go to the women of Lila Handicrafts.

Naina’s demonstration will run from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. It’s free with general admission to the Pacific Asia, which is $7 to $10 (ages 11 and younger are free).

And what will Naina do when she’s not working?

“She wants to go sight-seeing,” Abidi said. “She wants to go to Hollywood.”


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