Culture preservation: Mother and daughter team struggle to keep their art alive

Published: March 15, 2012

Hard at work at her stall in the Lok Virsa festival, Ambreen Fatima hopes for renewed sales in an environment not friendly to cultivation of the arts. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL

Hard at work at her stall in the Lok Virsa festival, Ambreen Fatima hopes for renewed sales in an environment not friendly to cultivation of the arts. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL Hard at work at her stall in the Lok Virsa festival, Ambreen Fatima hopes for renewed sales in an environment not friendly to cultivation of the arts. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL
ISLAMABAD: 

Colourful birds, desi blinds and hand puppets, decorated with beads and bells, were hard to miss at the Lok Virsa festival stall.

Assisting her widowed mother in the production of these handmade crafts, Ambreen Fatima talked about the diminishing number of exhibitions to promote their dying art.

Dressed in a simple shalwar kameez and blazer, the young artisan’s pleasant personality attracted many visitors to her stall, as a group of young girls pointed out their favourite pieces.

While Fatima claims to have always been business-oriented, she never really knew what to do with her interest until she joined her mother in what has become a family business.

Her mother has been in the business for the past 22 years, she said adding that they are the only ones in the twin cities that are making these products.

It took her four years to learn the art from her mother and master it. The injection of young blood helped bring in new ideas to the art form, making their work unique and more likeable. “I started advising my mother on newer colour combinations for matching fabric with beads,” she said, adding that their hit item, a puppet, was her idea.

Investing eight to ten hours a day making these items, mother and daughter have set up a workshop in their home, which they balance with household chores in the absence of any domestic staff to help them.

“It’s difficult but we have to do it to earn a living,” she said. Growing up watching her mother dedicate her life to the craft, it seems only natural that she has chose to do the same thing.

But the sale of handcrafted products are becoming increasingly more difficult and where once exhibitions were held once a month, now they have been reduced to taking personal orders. Considered novel and exotic by foreigners, the items are mostly used as decoration pieces or gifts for friends and family back home. With decreasing interest, however, sales are restricted to dwindling exhibitions and individual orders.

Lok Virsa Executive Director Khalid Javed said that a newly sealed agreement with the Norwegian embassy has played a major role in helping restore and revive culture – including items that people like Fatima make — in Pakistan. The agreement will continue till 2013. The government, too, has more than doubled the budget for cultural preservation from Rs25.5 million to Rs60 million, he added.

But the effect of these measures, at least in Fatima’s case, has not trickled down to the artisans.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2012. 

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