Paper Mache: An Incredible Ancient Art Dying a Silent and an Unmourned Death

Paper Mache: An Incredible Ancient Art Dying a Silent and an Unmourned Death
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Dar Javed

The natural beauty of Kashmir is no doubt an inspiration but Kashmir is globally recognized because of its beautiful arts and crafts. It provides employment to vast segments of craft persons. If anything has given us a global identity, it is our handicrafts it (Kashmir ) is home to the finest art works in the world .As Kashmir is the valley of artisans where many arts have found their roots .one such art which remain an integral part of the valleys culture is the Paper Mache Art. The beautiful art of paper Mache is the heart and soul of Kashmir culture.
The amazing transformation of scrap or waste paper into beautiful artifacts (by the golden hands of artisans) done in decorative beauty to outshine the very essence of colors is what paper Mache is all about. In Kashmir ,paper Mache originated in the form of making pen cases from paper pulp(Base) .the qalamdans(pen cases) were in turn covered with floral or geometric patterns and finished with a coat of Rogan (Varnish ); it was for this reason that the craft was initially referred as Kariqalamdan ( the art of making pen cases) .
A French term so commonly adopted in the East as well as west and meaning “Mashed Paper” , paper Mache is, in fact, a unique combination of line and color on moulded forms of variety of objects (D N Saraf ,Arts and crafts of Jammu Kashmir ,p-125) .
The humble journey of making this beautiful paper Mache products involves two processes : Sakhtasaazi ( basic object is made of a light weight material by a different community called saktasazi.,who fashions the base product ) and Naqashi (Painting ) giving decorative touch ,painting by fine hands for intricate designs , done over it .

Products
A wide range of paper-mache items which are widely known for beautiful motifs and designs include :
Wall-plaques and Panels, Mirror-holders, writing table sets, Lamp stands, Boxes (cigar, flat, jewellery cups, trays, frames, elephants, horses, cats, flower vases ,pendant Lamp Shades and so on.
As per the official statement by Jammu Kashmir Handicraft Department, of the 56 traditional skills, only 26 are practised today .Among the surviving skills is Paper Mache – which unfortunately is dying a silent death. It has contributed a lot to the economy of Kashmir, but unfortunately this craft is becoming a part-time activity. Like other crafts, it has suffered due to it being unorganized with additional constraints of low capital ,poor exposure to newer technologies ,absence of market intelligence and so on.

Plight Of Artisans
Kashmir, for centuries has been associated with rich art and culture but for decades has been arrested in a steep decline of this legacy. The artists associated with handicraft are poorest of the communities of the society (most artisans earn a meagre income from their tedious labour) ; they are not able to take care of their families from these wages. This has become a part time activity for these artisans as they have moved to other fields. Artisans don’t want their children to continue with this art, and because of diminishing returns .young generation show reluctance to learn the skill. The state has to work on many fronts to revive the arts and crafts in Kashmir.
First and foremost should be safeguarding the future of artists by creating schemes and welfare programmes which will help them to sustain a dignified life. This will keep the traditional art and craft alive and beating .
Kashmiris have won great reputation as artisans and were celebrated in the old days. But , now the artisans even the national and state award artists are leaving the art .The need of an hour is to reach out to the artisans with good schemes and awareness about the existing schemes .We have to retain our identity and preserve traditional art and crafts.

( To be Continued..)
The author holds a Masters in Craft Management Design and Entrepreneurship. He can be reached at: darjaveed305@gmail.com