On a September afternoon, even as sun shines bright and normally one would prefer a post-lunch siesta, artisans at this carpet and shawl weaving workshop at Safa Kadal in downtown are busy doing their work.
The shawl weaving artisans, mostly between 25 to 35 years of age, say it is the innovation and matching up to the demand of the global market that can boost hand-knotted carpets and shawls from Kashmir and help them attract a wider clientele.
Shabir Ahmad Bhat, a shawl weaver at the workshop of SS Carpets at Safa Kadal says the way youngsters have excelled in other fields with help of continuous innovation, youth associated with Kashmir art also have an important role to bring innovative methods in shawl and carpet weaving.
“It is always our endeavor to provide new designs in our creations such as shawls. It is only new designs that match up to the taste of today’s generation which becomes the unique selling point of any handicraft product” says Bhat.
A walk downstairs at the same workshop’s wooden staircase takes one to the carpet weaving section.
The crisscrossing of threads by the hands of 70-year-old Farooq Ahmad makes one swell with pride of how the rich tradition of carpet weaving is synonymous with Kashmir. While the set-up of this carpet weaving set-up looks familiar, the technique of inserting zari threads in the patterns not just lifts the aesthetic value of such carpets but makes them unique masterpieces.
Speaking with Kashmir Ink, Farooq Ahmad said the golden and silver threads makes the carpets give an altogether unique look. “ The experimenting with silver and golden threads is somewhat time consuming and costly as well but the final product is just worth it” says Farooq. However, Farooq says the marginalized artisans need to be provided better wages and incentives so that they are encouraged to showcase their skills. “ I hope there is a mechanism in place so that artisans are paid better so that they lead a respectful life” says Farooq.
As the hard work of the artists shows its final colour in the posh environs of showroom, this correspondent took a stroll along with the owners of SS Carpets to reach their showrooms to get a touch and feel of their unique products.
Shanawaz Ahmad Sofi, who has an interesting fine arts background and self-designs calligraphy-embedded carpets, gets a spring in his stride as he approaches the showroom. The moment Shahnawaz enters the showroom, he begins pointing out at the unique designs of carpets used as wall hangings.
“My father Gul Muhammad Sofi is a state award winner in handicrafts. He bagged the award in 2013. When I completed my course in fine arts, I started developing an interest in handicrafts” says Sofi.
This Kashmir art enthusiast says as a result of the economic downturn and subsequent slowdown of the handicraft business world-over, the demand for Kashmiri carpet has faded. However, Sofi believes that he converted his skill into designing handicrafts which has come handy.
“We applied new techniques of carpet weaving and tried to match up to the trends in international markets” says Sofi.
Holding a unique wall clock designed with help of carpet weaving technique, Sofi says the wall hanging carpets with ‘Allah’ and the ‘ Kalima’ inscribed on it remain to be among his favorites.
“ I found it quite interesting to use carpet weaving for designing artifacts and products meant for decorating walls and other home spaces” says Sofi. Sofi says there was an immediate need to cater the present trends in the global market. “Zari in carpet weaving has been used here for quite some time but we designed a fusion work of walnut wood frames with carpet weaved artifacts which have received a tremendous response in the global market” says Sofi.
Imaad Rohella, who has studied luxury brand management in Italy and has been associated with Sofi, says Kashmir has a lot of potential in doing unique and innovative things with carpet and shawl weaving.
“There is a lot of untapped potential in Kashmir so that handicrafts can be given a further impetus. We need to introduce the skills of master craftsmen in the form of a brand in the world market” says Imaad.He says the present business form of simple trade of handicrafts needs to evolve into creating a brand value “ by portraying of story” in a thematic way.
“The innovative styles of carpet weaving need to focus more on product design. I am keen to take the unique handicrafts of Kashmir to the world market” says Imaad. He says in the 18th- 19th century Kashmir’s trade was deeply connected with the European market which had helped to develop a strong clientele. However, the Europeans now-a-days provide a “multi-dimensional touch” to their art and crafts which makes them quite appealing.
“ Luxury brand houses in Europe and the clientele look for meaning in crafts. Often we keep using traditional motifs in our craft which necessarily might not appeal to a market such as Eurpore. We need to create stories in a thematic manner to ensure that we cater to this demand in the international art and craft market” says Imaad.