The Untold Story of Struggles by Famous Kashmiri Papier-mâché Artisan Muzzafar Kawoosa

Kashmiri valley was once called "Paradise on earth" by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir because of its astounding natural scenic beauty, rich cultural heritage, skillful craft forms, abundant cultivation of dry fruits and fresh fruits. However, in the present time; Kashmir is in the cross hairs always due to political reasons that has affected internal harmony of the valley. This has left innumerable artisans in worst situations because they are unable to find the landscape for their craft to flourish.

Crafts and textiles have been the biggest source of livelihood for several people in Kashmir. ‘Papier mâché’ is a delicate decorative art which shows the artistic zeal of craftsmen in Kashmir. The art form obtained its name from the French word meaning ‘Mashed paper’ and was highly favored by Mughal Emperors of 15th and 16th Century. But in recent times, the art is observed to lose its charisma and artisans are further helpless because of inadequate government support; lack of infrastructural facilities related to electricity, water and good medical care; and chronic conflicts.

To preserve the craft cottage industry and livelihood of thousands of artisans; it is important to promote their work and provide them with a platform to showcase their talent. Hence, in this article; we have tried to present the story of a Kashmiri artisan - his origin, craft heritage, how financially viable it is for the artisans to work on this craft form and his struggle to survive in the current volatile environment.

Muzzafar Kawoosa is a famous papier-mâché artisan from Amda Kadal, Srinagar. He is in this profession of art arrangement almost from last 40 - 45 years. The usual time that he takes to prepare a finished product depends upon the size and shape of the piece. He approximately requires a week to make a small papier-mâché artefacts; whereas a bigger artefacts take 10 days to a few months depending upon the extent of labour required and intricacy of designs. He has acquired this art form from his mentor, Mehsab Ghulam Haider.

Contemplating the element of ‘financial return’ from this art form, he is not much content with the current scenario. In the initial years, he had a decent income from the papier-mâché craft. But currently due to political instability, the abrogation of Article 370, violence and destructive environment; the income from this profession is widely suffered. And additionally; the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown has further worsened their basic source of earning because of low tourism and lack of opportunities to exhibit their products.

While Indian government is encouraging small businesses and grassroots initiatives, it is vital to make sure that local artisans of India get value of their art and enough opportunities and platforms to exhibit themselves.

Sabka saath, sabka vikaas? ;) :)

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