Exhibition: Handbags that tell the stories of Chitral

Published: April 24, 2011
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A visitor views handmade bags at Krizmah’s exhibition held at Tanzara Gallery on Friday. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID

A visitor views handmade bags at Krizmah’s exhibition held at Tanzara Gallery on Friday. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVAID

ISLAMABAD: 

Their brand name might be riddled with controversy, but one of their goals is to preserve Chitrali art.

Zainab Ulmulk and Nadia Malik, under the brand name Krizmah, have brought their first-ever exhibition to Tanzara Art Gallery.

After being criticized for plagiarizing designs from Polly&Me, an established company that manufactures similar bags, Krizmah stood their ground regarding the originality of their work. Both companies aim to empower women from Chitral and bank upon these women’s virtuosity in Kalami stitching.

“We both [companies] work with the same women and yet the designs are different,” said Cathy of Polly& Me, disproving the notion of plagiarism.

“[But] at the end of the day this business is not about just making money but also empowering the Chitrali women,” she said, adding that the approach helped them keep a reality check on the priorities people have.

Chitrali artisans use the hand-woven works featured in the exhibition to celebrate the rich culture and mythology of their ancient kingdom from time immemorial, and each of the handbags tells a tale from the valley.

While one bag narrates the tale of a lost princess, another exquisite bag tells the tale of the famous opium growers in Chitral and how they met their business downfall.  The bags are all handmade and are a testament to the industrious north of Pakistan.

The brand is associated with Mogh Limited, an NGO that works closely with the cottage industry in Chitral. The expressed purpose of this project is to counter the apparent decline in home-weaving of “Shu”, Chitral’s traditional woollen fabric, the sale of which still provides cash to rural families subsisting in a harsh environment. With over 1,400 women working under them, the NGO also employs women from far-flung areas of Chitral and neighbouring villages.

The enterprising young ladies are gathering a cult following in Lahore and Krizmah bags can be spotted on the shoulders and elbows of socialites around town.

Even though Polly&Me already has a market for their products in Islamabad, the different designs are sure to hit Islamabad gradually. Even though the luxury items are pricey (with prices ranging well into thousands) compared to local merchandise, the one-off pieces not only break through the barrier of art but also have a deep conscious attached to them.

They are sure to add character to whoever owns them.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2011.

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