Gilgit - Baltistan

Women artisans from Gojal display needlework skills

ghulkinISLAMABAD, Dec 26: The Sui dhaga (needlework) exhibition ended at Lok Virsa on Thursday. Three women exponents of the ancient craft from distant Gojal valley in upper Hunza attracted much attention of visitors at the weeklong expo.

The team, led by master artisan Haji Bibi, and her two students, Fouzia Parveen and Amna Bibi, had been invited for the first time to the ‘artisans-atwork’ exhibition under Lok Virsa’s “Craft of the Month” programme where they demonstrated their skill in needlework and show-cased their intricate and unique products in the medley of traditional needleworks from all over Pakistan.

The Gojal Educational and Cultural Association (GECA) worked hand in hand with Lok Virsa to introduce the three artisans and their work at the popular national event. Craftsmen and women from Hunza have been part of the Artisan Festival for long but it was the first time Gojal valley was represented in its separate capacity.

Visitors took great interest in the intricate designs, motifs, and colours of fine needlework from Gojal valley. Wallets, bell-pulls, purses, carry bags, travel pouches, glass coasters, jewellery boxes, Wakhi caps, carpets, shoes, cushions, coin pouches, camera covers and several other embroidered items did good business.

Produced under the banner of Silk Route Handicrafts in Ghulkin, Gojal, these products carry a long history of needlework transferred over generations. But the crafts are now faced with extinction. The needle workers are therefore applying their creative skills to the making of new products of daily use for today’s market.

The three artisans were happy at the visitors’ response, as they had arrived late at the exhibition having remained stuck at a road blockage near Dasu for 12 hours. The women artisans have emerged as entrepreneurs. They produce these items with the help of numerous home-based artisans in different parts of Gojal.

About the prospects of the traditional arts and crafts of Gojal, Haji Bibi thinks that such shows can help the old crafts survive while providing a living to the craftswomen. She would like to expand their work in other parts of Gojal if the demand for hand-made products rises because of exposure through such national shows.

They thanked the Lok Virsa and GECA for promoting marginalized communities’ crafts and culture through such national exhibitions, which could help keep the heritage alive if made a regular feature.

The National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage or Lok Virsa also organised a one-day workshop to provide an opportunity to the master artisans to discuss their issues with craft-related experts and seek their views and guidelines for solving them.

Four major problems emerged during the workshop and the foremost of them was lack of funds for the promotion of traditional crafts. Another problem was lack of assistance for designers. Modern marketing techniques were needed to compete in the national and international markets.

The experts suggested that artisans should be extended soft loans from various government departments and Lok Virsa should provide its outdoor vacant shops for rotational sale and exhibition of the crafts from different areas.

The participants also stressed the need for preservation of indigenous patterns and traditional designs while allowing innovative work for modern needs. Attractive packaging and involvement of private and public enterprise in the export of handicrafts were needed to help the small artisans.

Lok Virsa’s Director Khalid Javed apprised the participants about the steps taken by the institute for promotion of crafts as well as betterment of crafts people, citing the institution of “Seal of Excellence Award” for handicraft products. The major objectives of the programme included providing market opportunities to ensure sustainability of handicraft industries, establishing standards of excellence for handcrafts, encouraging innovativeness and offering training and support to the master artisans and craftspeople, said Lok Virsa Executive Director Mazharul Islam, while talking to Dawn.

Needlework using threads of various kinds is employed to embellish any cloth material with a variety of patterns, designs and motifs. Both the technique and the patterns reflect local traditions; the culture and the physical environment of the people and places where the craft developed.

The various stitches are generally named after seasons and flowers. Crossstitch embroidery of Hunza-Gojal and Hazara, used to be done on caps only but now many items of daily use like doorbells, pouches and wallets are embroidered in this style. Courtesy Dawn

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  1. One suggestion! if the exhibtion is reflecting our culture then it would be nice if Fouzia and Amna Bi Bi have worn traditional Hunza caps (like Haji Bibi is wearing). All of them are representing Hunza at a national level.

  2. Dear Readers of PT,
    The three artisans from Gulkin village deserve great appreciations for being so skillful and participating in the Sui dhaga (needlework) exhibition help at Lok Versa Islamabad.
    Such kind of opportunities can further boost up the talents and aggrandize them before others as a source of inspiration.
    I salute aunti Haji Bibi and her students for being proactive in calling a spade a spade through their skills and credentials. I would appreciate the involvement of such skillful members of the society in the upcoming Wakhi week which would pave a way towards many new horizons and would let others know about the Wakhis who are although less in number but enriched with many skills and poteials.
    Aslam Ghalib

  3. Dear Aziz Ali,

    I agree and support your suggestion, all GECA members in general and Mr. Abdullah (from Shimshal) in particular used all thier efforts in recognizing the importance of wearing traditional caps, dresses and appearance, it was a first look and exposure, lets hope and expect good to over come such weakness with the passage of time.

    Shah Zaman

  4. Technical educational and vocational training (TEVT) is an area where we need concentration not only on individua basis but on institutional levels as well. I would request local communities to focus on this area as we have a lot of potential in this area.

    It is need of the hour to make our young generation skillfull, talented and active in different walks of life.

    I appreciate participation of our sisters who represented Gojal at Lok Versa in Islamabad. Thanks to Lok Versa administration and management of GECA for promoting and encouraging our skilled human resource.

    Let us go ahead with a vision to promote such skills in future at different levels. Hopefully, our future would be bright then.

    Shujaat Ali
    UNESCO, Pakistan

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