‘We wish dignity’: the vanishing craft of Kashmir’s papier-mache artists | International improvement

Okashmir’s historic papier-mache artworks are well-known all through the world. The artwork kind is a staple of the luxurious decorative market, and has a wealthy and lengthy cultural lineage. It’s carefully related to the arrival of Islam in Kashmir, and depicts scenes from the Mughal court docket, Arabic verses from the Qu’ran, Persian poetry, in addition to Kashmir’s iconic vacationer sights.

Nevertheless, this historic artwork kind is vanishing, with solely a handful of artisans left practising.

“The downfall started within the early 90s, with the rise of the insurgency motion in Kashmir,” says Maqbool Jan, a famend papier-mache artist, who lives along with his household within the quiet Lal Bazar space of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir.

“After that the vacationer movement dwindled and demand plummeted. Then, in current instances, there have been a number of setbacks: the devastating 2014 Kashmir floods, the abrogation of Kashmir’s autonomous standing in 2019, and at last the 2020 coronavirus pandemic was the deadly blow.”

Maqbool comes from an award-winning household of papier-mache artists. He was solely three when he first took up a paintbrush. His father had simply died and his mom was pregnant along with his youthful brother, Firdous.

At this time, Maqbool and Firdous work with their wives, Masrat and Gowhar Jan, to create beautiful items. Nevertheless, the household is apprehensive that inside a decade the artwork kind may disappear.

“Earlier there have been whole localities doing papier-mache, however now there are lower than 3,000 individuals related to this job,” says Maqbool.

Masrat Jan with Firdous and Gowhar Jan. The household has been working collectively for years

About 100,000 papier-mache artisans are registered with the federal government, however only a few are full-time practising artists.

Maqbool is thought for his progressive designs – altering patterns and color schemes to maintain the artwork alive. He has began creating artwork works on partitions, doorways, conventional Kashmiri Khatamband ceilings, in addition to utensils. He was awarded the Unesco seal of excellence award for his contribution to handicrafts in 2008.

Maqbool Jan working on his papier-mache
Maqbool Jan engaged on his papier-mache

Maqbool blames the federal government for the decline of arts and tradition in Kashmir. He says artisans will not be supported in the identical means different sectors are, regardless of the Jammu and Kashmir authorities having a directorate of handicrafts.

“From 1989 till now, papier-mache noticed so many setbacks, however the authorities didn’t pay any heed to it,” he says.

“Has the federal government ever thought if the artisans have sufficient meals to outlive? Within the division of labour, a employee not less than has the good thing about medical health insurance and scholarships for his or her kids. We don’t even have that. We’re lower than labourers.”

Mahmood Ahmad Shah, director of the handicrafts division, defended the federal government. “Everybody solely blames the federal government. They are saying the federal government is doing nothing however they don’t have a look at our accomplishments,” he says, including that the division has spent the previous two years attempting to revive endangered crafts.

“For the primary time in historical past, final yr we got here up with a handicraft and handloom coverage. The division by no means had a coverage earlier than this. Throughout the new coverage, we purpose to supply instructional charges for the youngsters of artisans, in addition to market interventions for his or her merchandise throughout the nation.”

Nevertheless, Shah says that out of the 170m rupees (£1.7m) Kashmir handicrafts generate yearly within the international change market “papier-mache is … solely a fraction of it. So it doesn’t generate some huge cash. Our foremost earners are pashmina and the carpet business.

A display of products in the family’s showroom at their home
A show of merchandise within the household’s showroom at their residence

“However papier-mache is equally vital to us and that’s why it’s one of many seven crafts from Kashmir which has acquired a geographical indication mark [to prove goods are made in the region].”

Exporters are one more reason for “the poisoning of the craft”, says Maqbool. “They purchase papier-mache merchandise at an affordable price in Kashmir and promote it throughout Europe at an exorbitant value, giving virtually peanuts to the individuals who really make it.

“If an exporter earns 100 rupees [£1] as revenue, he ought to not less than give 30% to the artisan and preserve 70% to himself. However what they do is give 1% to the artisan and, in consequence, the artisans are compelled to promote their merchandise by themselves, which has impacted their quantity of dedication on the artwork.”

Maqbool Jan’s papier-mache cloth map of Srinagar, depicting famous sites, architecture and Dal Lake
Maqbool Jan’s papier-mache fabric map of Srinagar, depicting well-known websites, structure and Dal Lake

Neither of Maqbool’s two sons, who each have college levels, are occupied with persevering with their father’s legacy. “My kids don’t need to be taught this artwork. They really feel humiliated in entrance of their buddies to say that their father is a papier-mache artist.”

Shah says that faculties and schools don’t train the craft, though he would really like that to alter.

“Many individuals say papier-mache artisans are poor and the federal government ought to present them with cash. But it surely’s not the cash we want. Cash is secondary. First, what we wish is dignity,” says Maqbool.

“I imagine, earlier than anything, we now have to carry a typical to this artwork. Give it the dignity to put it aside from extinction. When it’s a dignified job, our kids will proudly do it and received’t get embarrassed in entrance of their buddies. You realize, why do MF Husain’s work value hundreds of thousands? As a result of it has a dignity.”

In August, Maqbool put his newest work, which took him two years to make, on public show – a cloth portray depicting Srinagar in 1825, lengthy earlier than environmental encroachments ruined the then Venice-like metropolis. He hopes the work will generate curiosity – and cash.

“The minimal base price could be 1.5m rupees [£15,000] and I believe we deserve it.”

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