Aesthetic, artistic, decorative, traditional, and culturally significant – Handicrafts represent a country’s rich tapestry of heritage and locals’ inherent talent in existence for centuries. And cherished among the craft legacies of Kashmir is the art of Papier-mâché. Pressed and moulded to produce a gleaming product from paper pulp, the craft of Papier-mâché has been a cherished tradition in the vibrant valley of Kashmir. This delicate and intricate craft has been passed down through generations, with each artisan adding their own unique touch to the delicate pieces.
The art of Papier-mâché is a true labour of love, requiring patience, skill, and an eye for detail. The artisans of Kashmir take great pride in their work, carefully crafting each piece by hand using only the finest materials. The result is a collection of beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces that collectors and art enthusiasts worldwide treasure. From colourful vases and bowls to light boxes and trays, the Papier-mâché craft of Kashmir offers a wide array of stunning pieces to admire and cherish. Let’s get to know more about the history and art of the famous Kashmir Papier-mâché.
The History of Papier-mâché in Kashmir
The history of Papier-mâché in Kashmir dates back several centuries ago. The art originated in China and was later introduced to India, particularly in the Kashmir region, by the Persian artisans during the reign of the Mughal Empire in India. The craft quickly gained popularity in the area, and the local artisans developed their unique style and techniques over time.
Zain-ul-Abidin was the ruler of the Kashmir region during the 15th century and is credited with being one of history’s greatest patrons of the arts. He is said to have been an enthusiastic supporter of the papier-mâché craft and is believed to have played an essential role in promoting and developing the art form during his reign.
During his reign, Zain-ul-Abidin is said to have encouraged the production of papier-mâché objects and commissioned many pieces from local artisans. He is also credited with introducing new designs, colours, and techniques to the craft. Furthermore, he established royal workshops and provided artisans with resources and support to improve the quality of their work. His reign was considered a golden age of the region’s art, culture, and architecture.
Zain-ul-Abidin’s patronage of the arts and his support of papier-mâché craft helped to establish the region as a centre of excellence for this craft, with many skilled artisans and workshops producing high-quality pieces that are still highly valued today. The art of Papier-mâché craft in the region is still known as “Zain-ul-Abidin’s art”, and it is considered a unique and valuable craft form that is both traditional and contemporary.
During the 20th century, the traditional art form of papier-mâché lost ground due to modern manufacturing techniques and inexpensive imports. However, it continues to be a relatively common craft practice in the region. It’s possible to still find some artisanal workshops that maintain and continue this craft’s traditions in the Vale of Kashmir.
The Art of Kashmiri Papier-mâché
Derived from the French word, Papier-mâché means “chewed paper” and was traditionally used to make household items such as bowls, trays, and boxes. Still, over time it has evolved to include a wide variety of decorative items such as vases, lampshades, and even jewellery. The craftsmanship and detailing of the traditional papier-mâché of Kashmir were so fine and delicate that it was also used to create miniature models of the famous Mughal gardens, buildings and other architectural pieces. These two processes are how artisans give decorative designs to various objects.
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SakhtSazi (Making of the object)
SakhtSazi is a specific traditional papier-mâché craft primarily practised in Iran and its surrounding regions. This technique involves creating intricate and detailed designs on papier-mâché pieces using small scissors and knives. Unlike traditional papier-mâché, where the designs are created by applying layers of paper and glue, SakhtSazi designs are carved into the surface of the papier-mâché.
SakhtSazi is usually used to create decorative objects like boxes, trays, and bowls and also for architectural models. The technique is known for its delicate and intricate patterns, and it takes a great deal of skill and experience to create high-quality SakhtSazi pieces. In recent years, the popularity of SakhtSazi has been increasing among craft collectors and enthusiasts.
Naqashi (Painting the surface)
The technique is known for its detailed and intricate designs, which are created by carefully layering and glueing thin sheets of paper onto the surface of the papier-mâché object. These layers are then painted and decorated with various colours and patterns using fine brushes, sometimes with small pieces of colourful glass called ‘tukri’, before being polished to a high sheen.
The unique quality of Naqashi is that it mainly focuses on the surface decoration rather than the form of the object. This technique is known for its highly decorative nature and vibrant colours, making Naqashi papier-mâché items stand out as striking and beautiful.
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