Two brothers’ quest to keep papier-mache craft alive and economically viable
Srinagar: Sheer determination to save the dying ‘papier-mache’ art has led two brothers in Srinagar to learn the ropes of the craft, introduce latest designs and patterns and advertise the products on social media, thus making it a profitable pursuit.
In times when the young hesitate to pursue traditional forms of art due to their commercial viability, here are two brothers — Hashim Ali Khan and Maisar Ali Khan — who not only breathed fresh air into the ‘papier-mache’ art in the Valley, but also turned around its economic prospect.
Hashim and Maisar, both residents of Hassanabad locality of the city, learnt the craft from their father Shabir Hussain Khan who has been into the craft for the last 50 years.
“We learnt the art form from our father. We developed an interest in the craft after seeing our father work during our school days,” Hashim said.
He said his father’s work included using pure gold for creating designs and colour schemes for papier-mache items.
“We developed an interest in the art and made it our calling,” he added.
His brother, Maisar, said like most of the crafts in the Kashmir Valley, the art of making papier-mache items has also been handed down from one generation to the other.
“We brothers decided to take forward the work done by our father. We have been working on new designs and colour schemes. Customers like it and the demand is growing,” he said.
Maisar said the number of papier-mache artisans in the Valley is decreasing as many have left it.
“People in Kashmir are not taking it up. (But), we do not want it to die. We want to keep it alive. We have to bring changes in it, we have to create new designs and colour combinations so that the customers like them and the same increases the demand,” he said matter-of-factly.
Hashim said they want Kashmir’s tradition and rich cultural heritage to thrive.
“I left my government job. I had the interest to keep this culture alive and also support my father. We have got a huge response and we sell our products abroad as well.
“Unfortunately, the younger generation is not keen on pursuing the traditional art forms. So, the number of artisans is falling. This work also demands a lot of patience, which unfortunately, our young generation lacks,” he said.
The brothers emphasised that reviving such traditional art forms can also be commercially viable.
“My brother and I did not go for any government job. We took up the craft and have been faring well. We earn a good amount and are living a good life. We get many orders and also export to foreign countries. We also export Christmas items like balls etc., to many countries,” Maisar said.
Shabir Hussain Khan said his sons became interested in the craft while watching him work.
“After they came home from school, they used to watch me doing this work. They showed interest in learning the art. After completing their graduation, they got many job offers but did not take them up,” he said.
Khan said a papier-mache artist should have the expertise to think outside the box which can only sustain him.
“Hashim and Maisar learnt the craft at home and they earn well. By the grace of God, they have helped me a lot in my work,” he added.
The brothers are also avid users of social media to connect with the customers and sell their products. In the process, they also try to attract the youth to the craft.
“We connect with our customers, including in foreign countries, and have been receiving a lot of orders. Sometimes, we get so many orders but lack the required manpower for making the products,” Hashim noted.
Although no help or recognition has come their way from the government, the duo feels the state needs to devise programmes to teach youngsters these art forms just like modern art is taught in schools.
Mehmood Shah, Director, Handlooms and Handicrafts said the government is trying to infuse interest in the youth and artisans with capacity building, including design improvements.
“It is really important to have new designs and colours. Craft evolves through fusion, new designs and colour schemes. Our endeavour is to have design improvement in the crafts. We have also brought designers and university students for capacity building of the artisans,” he said.
Shah said two institutions are dedicated for craft development –- the Craft Development Institute and the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology.
“… We also have a tie-up with the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) under which we teach new designs of papier-mache. We are in talks with the Centre Skill Council, and are making a centre of excellence. A lot of work is focused on new designs. There is a need to provide new designs to the artisans and to get experts here to teach them,” the director added.