Promoting their handiwork: Heritage fair brings traditional craftsmanship to the fore

Reimagining Karachi and I Am Karachi celebrate the work of local artisans and craftsmen.


An artisan carefully paints an intricate pattern onto a block of terracotta at a stall in the heritage fair held at the Arts Council, Karachi, on Sunday. The fair aims to promote traditional craftsmanship. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS

KARACHI: Luv Raj Khatri came all the way from Thar with hand-woven woolen shawls, rugs and carpets as well as traditional Sindhi appliques, setting up a display of exquisite meenakari designs that caught the eyes of those who ventured to the Arts Council, Karachi, on Sunday.



With Khatri's Thari shawls as well as clay pottery, hand-painted wooden vessels and brass handicrafts, a heritage fair, organised by Reimagining Karachi by SEED Ventures in collaboration with I Am Karachi, celebrated the traditional craftwork that is often overlooked.





An artisan carefully paints an intricate pattern onto a block of terracotta at a stall in the heritage fair held at the Arts Council, Karachi, on Sunday. The fair aims to promote traditional craftsmanship. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS



"This fair is an endeavour to showcase the work of local artisans and craftsmen," Sadaf Mahmood, the Reimagining Karachi project head, told The Express Tribune. "We have invited the people of Thar to exhibit their work too, since they do not have enough avenues to promote their craftsmanship."

In a time when the traditional arts and craft is often pushed aside to make way for the modern, Reimagining Karachi and I Am Karachi have taken a step to provide a platform not only showcasing the craftsmanship that has been passed on through the ages, but also giving artisans opportunities that they would not otherwise find in their own communities.

Khatri, the owner of Nathu Ram Block Printing, said that the Tharis had been in the block printing business for a long time — 325 years, to be exact. "I was a government servant but I left my job to keep the art and culture of Sindh alive," he explained. "Ten years ago, around 40 households in Thar did this work, employing over 1,000 people. Today, my business, with 10 artisans, is the sole survivor." He added that opportunities such as this fair provided them with the support they needed to bolster their work and earn a livelihood.



An artisan carefully paints an intricate pattern onto a block of terracotta at a stall in the heritage fair held at the Arts Council, Karachi, on Sunday. The fair aims to promote traditional craftsmanship. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS



At another stall, the geometrical patterns of rich-hued clay pots exhibited a timeless aesthetic that enthralled beholders. However, the owner of Unique Clay Pottery, Pervaiz Yaqoob, was more concerned about the decay of cultural values among the youth.

"I am in this business to earn a living but I have a hidden motive too — to uphold the heritage that makes Karachi a vibrant city," he asserted, adding that as a responsible member of society, he was also training schoolchildren in making clay pottery.

Meanwhile, the elaborate wall hangings, flamboyantly painted bells, vivid coasters and colourful napkin-holders at the Artel stall brought the medium of terracotta to the attention of the viewers. Nearby, craftsmen sat deftly colouring new pieces in front of a live audience.

It was not just the people of Thar whose business prospects were boosted by the fair.



An artisan carefully paints an intricate pattern onto a block of terracotta at a stall in the heritage fair held at the Arts Council, Karachi, on Sunday. The fair aims to promote traditional craftsmanship. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS



"Having a shop in Zainab Market does not give our work the exposure we receive from events such as this," pointed out Shahroz Khan, the owner of AKC Handicrafts, who was surrounded by a number of pieces worked in wood, copper and brass. "I have chosen to make handicrafts embellished with skilful calligraphy that symbolises our heritage."

Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2015. 

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