“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known” Oscar Wilde
Nothingmore sums up the essence behind the quote above than in respect of artisans involved in the unique art form of Kashmir papier-mache. Generation after generations, observes, learns and develops the art and craft to ensure that legacy adapts to the changing times. Unfortunatelythere are more exceptions to this than there are rules.In fact niche art forms are the life and blood of art form all over the world and Kashmir papier-mache is no exception to this rule. Kashmirpapier-mache is a beautiful way of brightening up your home and filling it with objects that will spark delight and discussion. The Persian (Iranian) mystic Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA) first introduced papier-mache in India in the 14th century. In fact he was visiting Kashmir region from Persia/Iran and brought along with him skilled artisans and craftsmen .The Persian method of making papier-mache melded with similar art forms from central Asia and Lo, Behold a unique form of art was born; The Kashmir paper-mache. Over time Kashmir artisans added their own flourish and flavor to this art form bringing attention to their creations from all over the world.
My interest in this unique Kashmir paper-mache art got a shot in the arm during my not so frequent visits to the valley /Pahalgam in the mid 1980s as also after a long hiatus in mid 1990s and early 2000. I was witness to its growth by leaps and bounds before the advent of scourge of militancy hit the area with full fury, andsaw how Kashmir paper-mache shops /sale points eagerly catered to a horde of tourist influx who made a hard bargain in their various transactions. For the uninitiated there are two important aspects to this unique art form—Sakthsazi and the Naquashi.The first step Sakthsazi involves making the foundation of the papier-macheor object with the paper pulp while Naquashi is the final step of painting and decoration.In the Sakthsazi stage of making a Kashmir papiermache item, the paper pulp is soaked in water for 3 to 4 days and then put in a stone mortar and ground so that all of the paper is uniform in its consistency. The pulp gets left in the sun for drying before mixed with atji, a kind of rice glue.A mold made of clay or wood allows the artist to shape the paper and glue mixture around it.The paper is taken off the mold before it is completely dry and then shaped and lacquered to make the outside smooth.
After the item has gone through the smoothing process a thin layer of butter paper protects the outside and will eventually keep the outer layer of paint from cracking off the finished product.Sakthsazi as an art form was conceived about 700 yearsago and is still the cynosure of artisans of Kashmir. Sounds easy isn’t it? In fact I would be far from truth for being overconfident.Despite its fine art form,Sakthsazi is losing its sheen among its patronage .The prime reason for this is because of the political situation in the valley which remains always on the edge .Due to almost nil incentives coming their way either from the local dispensation or the connoisseurs of this great art the workshops of the artisans are in a dilapidated state .As brought out earlier,since Kashmirpapiermacheis a combination of Sakthsazi and Naquashi technique with artisans equally committed to their profession, the absence of any incentive has got this team split up with most of them working their individual way either from their homes /work stations.This arrangement doesn’t bode well for the overall development of this unique art and calls for an immediate remedial action from the government . In fact the splitting up of the teams has unnecessarily build up intense and unhealthy competition in the market which doesn’t portend welland sends ominous signals all over the art fraternity irrespective of their affiliations to this particular art form.
Thus the market forces instead of helping the artisans of papiermache have in fact crushed them. Though the Kashmir papiermache art is one of the oldest in india, it doesn’t command the type of media attention which it deserves from various media barons and industry sources either in the past or even during the present times. Media blitzkrieg catapults any art form into the public gaze and increases the visibility quotient of an item thereby doubling its market value that unfortunately has not happened over here. This obscurity has cut into the price tagging of the items of Kashmir papiermache leading to a situation where they have remained stagnant for the last twenty years or so without showing any forward movement. Correspondingly the price inflation has made the raw material very prohibitive in cost thereby tossing the artisans maths to a dustbin. Coming to the Naquashi stage in the overall build up of an item, its suffice to know that this is the final stage of making a papiermache object.The Naquashi stage involves making a base coat of paint and applying to the item. Thereafter the artisan makes designs of his choice by hand on the outside of the item, which means no item of Kashmir papiermache is same. This also proves that on a Kashmiri papiermache item the artisan has carved out his personality,mood, and professional acumen all combined for everyone to see.Traditional artists often use colours derived from minerals ,organic or vegetable bases with common themes appearing on these objects to include Kashmir symbols like Almonds, and chinar leaf with its five pointed corners.
This ancient art form continues to the present day taking a new hue and ideas but intrinsically staying true to its foundations brought to Kashmir by Mir Syed Ali Hamdani (RA).Coming back to the crucial question of saving this precious art from falling into the abyss of oblivion and resurrecting it to its past glory .Changed business ethics, marketing strategy ,and finance has made it mandatory that this unique art form be connected to all relevant national and international art and culture platforms for its better visibility and world wide reach.Despite intervention by way of introduction of new and newer designs and figuring out the limitations of its craftsmen the need of the hour is to tackle this problem in a more professional manner.To take it to a global stage this art form will definitely require oodles of will power,good intention and entrepreneurship from all and sundry to include artisans, the connoisseurs of this art, the local government as well as the central government at New Delhi. Linking this art formto institutions like NZCC (North zone cultural center) at Patiala, and India heritage walks is a necessity to raise it from its present stage of moribundity.The idea is to form some sort of collective organization to band together all these disparate groups of Kashmir artisans and craftsmen, strengthen them by design intervention, and marketing exposure so as to push the boundaries of this craft far and wide .It is never too late to breathe an air of optimism, hope and expectancy into Kashmir papiermache art by the stake holders both at center and the local dispensation to see it blossom again for the benefit of the country and the world at large.