Papier-mâché is a form of recycling waste paper into beautiful decorative objects. Like many other Kashmiri crafts, it has Persian influence. The making of any papier-mâché product is a two-step process: sakhtsazi and naqashi. Sakhtsazi involves construction of a desired base using paper pulp. Naqashi refers to free-hand fine painting done over the base. Paints used generally have a metallic tinge, and shading is done to give a natural appearance to the motifs. Post the naqashi, a layer of varnish is given given to the item for a sheen.
Iqbal Hussain Wani is a skilled naqash who started his practice in 1993, “I didn’t start out of passion. No. I just had to start fending for myself. My father did it. My elder brother did it. It was the culture in our family. So I just got into it. But boy did I fall in love over the past 22 years!” Wani’s team usually consists of himself and his brother, the extended family joins in on bigger orders.
“The fact of the matter is that the craft is endangered. We have been making the same designs since a very long time. How long will the same products sell? The new generations don’t care to learn this trade. My own kids don’t want to be artisans, because then their future would be bleak. I don’t blame them. If I were a youngster, I wouldn’t want to get into this.”
“I joined Commitment to Kashmir (CtoK) last year, because it seemed like a ray of hope. They are saving dying crafts, which means they are saving us. They’re helping a whole community survive extinction. I have been learning through workshops multiple things I didn’t even know I needed to learn: business strategies, marketing techniques, contemporary designs.”
Wani speaks fondly of his experience working with design mentor, Harpreet Padam, “He has such a nice way of explaining and teaching. The whole journey has been a roller coaster ride, a completely novel affair. I’m extremely grateful to him.” Padam reciprocates the fondness, and compliments Wani’s receptivity to innovation,“Iqbal is a talented fine-artist and very proficient in the use of raised naqash work, colour reproduction and special paint effects.”
“We have been creating interesting products with unique paint textures, and by inclusion of typography with pictures, patterns, and motifs. They have turned out to be extremely contemporary. At the end of the day, yes, I want our products to go places. I want more projects. But what I want most is for my craft to stay alive. That is the priority. I believe the work CtoK is doing can really bring about change in the outlook the future generations have towards artisanship. It’s good to know we are on the right track."
we are on the right track.”