Film Screening and Discussion with Director – Connecting Threads: Made In India Fabrics for Africa

Documentary Film (Director, Dr. Renu Modi) – 21 minutes

A Centre for African Studies and Observer Research Foundation production

About the film

The documentary portrays the transoceanic journey of cloth – primarily Kangas and Vitenge – unique textile genres that are exported from India to various entrepôts in Africa. It showcases the power of globalization, patterns of exchange and the role of the ubiquitous Vaniyas (merchants) who have an eye for fashion and serve as the linchpin between the two geographies.

Historically, the ports and inland cities of western India were engaged in the manufacturing or transshipment of cloth to Africa. The seaport of Mumbai occupied a central position in the exports of textiles, mainly cotton, in the aftermath of the American civil war that disrupted the supply of ‘merikani’ cloth to Africa in the 1860s.  Since the inception of the first textile mill in Mumbai, in the 1850s and until the late 1980s, cotton fabrics were exported from Mumbai to east Africa.  Later, the erstwhile cotton mill town reinvented its role as the leading trading and export hub while Jetpur – a bustling cottonopolis in Gujarat, emerged as the foremost centre for the design and production of Kangas and Vitenge.

The film documents the lifecycle of these fabrics through the various artful processes – whereby the ‘grey’ cotton transforms itself into a vibrant cloth, aligned to the aesthetics, social, political and cultural lives and regional preferences of peoples in Africa. The designs requested by traders in Africa are improvised upon by local designers in India, thus creating the ‘hybrid’ material infused with Indian and African visual sensibilities. It also underscores the high energy but low profile trade in fabrics – a facet that is evidently missing from the contemporary meta- narratives on India- Africa trade and people to people connections through the material medium of cloth.

It has been filmed in various locales; Jetpur and Tarapur (India); Mombasa, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam (East Africa).

Renu Modi is a senior Lecturer and former Director (2008-2010) of the Centre for African Studies, University of Mumbai. She is a political scientist from the Lady Shri Ram College for women, Delhi University, who later received her Ph.D. from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Her recent books are, Beyond Relocation: the Imperative of Sustainable Resettlement ( ed. Sage, New Delhi, 2009) and South- South Cooperation: Africa on the Centre Stage ( ed. Palgrave Macmillan, United Kingdom, August 2011). She has written on issues of India-Africa economic relations, from a historical as well as a contemporary perspective, and has also served as the social development consultant with the Inspection Panel of the World Bank in 2005.