FEATURE STORY December 6, 2017

Embroidering a New Future for Pakistan's Rural Artisans

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At Lahore's AL Hamra Art Gallery, hundreds of colourful thread spools interspersed with scores of embroidery frames created a 'sky of Pakistan's embroidery' on the ceiling. 

Vinayak Ghatate/World Bank


STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Hunar ke Rang or 'colour of skills' is a marquee event organized every year by the Indus Heritage Trust (IHT) to celebrate Pakistan's glorious craft traditions and their unsung rural practitioners.
  • RANG aims to empower artisans by supporting them to set up their own producer groups as well as higher level artisan institutions and enterprises.
  • Despite its rich cultural heritage and substantial artisan base, Pakistan's art and craft exports make up only 0.5% of global handicrafts market. IHT is cognizant of this, and has worked towards addressing this gap at all levels of the craft value chain.

On November 11, 2017, the foyer area of Lahore's Al Hamra art gallery wore a festive look.

The space was dressed with exquisite collections, designs and embroidered textiles from South Punjab and Sindh. Overhead, hundreds of colourful thread spools interspersed with scores of embroidery frames creating a 'sky of Pakistan's embroidery'. Traditional sitar music played in the background, adding to the grand display of Pakistan’s embroidery tradition.

Sitting amidst dignitaries, designers, business persons and development professionals was Shamshad Bibi, a traditional artisan from a remote village in Pakistan's Sindh province. She peered expectantly at the runway, as did everyone else in the room.

Moments later, Moammar Rana, a popular Pakistani actor walked in wearing an elegant black kurta paired with an intricately embroidered tribal shawl. A buzz went around the room, as excited guests scrambled to take a look. Shamshad Bibi was thrilled too, albeit for a slightly different reason. Rana was wearing her creation.

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Actor, Moammar Rana, in a tapestry of colours, traditional skill and perseverance supported by the the Rang project

Actor, Moammar Rana, in a tapestry of colours, traditional skill and perseverance - the Rang project

Hunar ke Rang or 'colour of skills' is a marquee event organized every year by the Indus Heritage Trust (IHT) to celebrate Pakistan's glorious craft traditions and their unsung rural practitioners. Besides the one-of-a-kind fashion show, the event features an exhibition showcasing various collections, interactions with traditional artisans on traditional techniques, and discussions with sector experts from across South Asia. Hunar ke Rang 2017, which is the second annual event, featured the running stitch collection, the Soojni collection, the tribal collection and the Daftry (office) range of stationery products - the four distinctive collections of the Rang project.

"RANG aims to empower artisans by supporting them to set up their own producer groups as well as higher level artisan institutions and enterprises. We have worked with the artisans and supported them in the creation of as many as 17 cluster enterprises and worked with them in developing businesses and supply chain skills. RANG has reached out to national and international designers to work with the artisans and create more than 3000 innovative prototypes that we are now aggressively marketing through various channels," said Siddiqa Malik, Chairperson, IHT.


""We never knew our traditional embroidery can bring us money. IHT has helped us relook at our own skill and uplift it in a manner that has completely transformed our lives.""
Shamshad Biwi
Artist supported by the Rang project

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"IHT has taught us to refresh our embroidery to make it popular in Pakistan and abroad," said Zulekha, a traditional artisan from Lodhran district in Punjab province.

Vinayak Ghatate/World Bank


Taking traditional Pakistani skills to the world

Despite its rich cultural heritage and substantial artisan base, Pakistan's art and craft exports make up only 0.5% of global handicrafts market. IHT is cognizant of this, and has worked towards addressing this gap at all levels of the craft value chain

"IHT has taught us to refresh our embroidery to make it popular in Pakistan and abroad," said Zulekha, a traditional artisan from Lodhran district in Punjab province.

Bringing Pakistan’s Designs to the World

The efforts have paid off. RANG has been successfully participating in international exhibitions and marketing events. The team that participated for the first time in NY-NOW, a tradeshow for handmade home and lifestyle designs and products in New York, returned with orders worth over $50,000 from several organizations and requests for samples from many more. 

"We have received orders from big names such as Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel as well," said Siddiqa Malik. "This is just the beginning. I expect the order pipeline to double in the coming season."

Clearly, there is a vast opportunity for Pakistani handcrafted products in the western market, and the Rang project has demonstrated how this can be tapped to bring sustainable income increases and create dignified employment opportunities for artisans at the fringe of society. The Rang project also makes a strong case for artisan centric development initiatives that leverage global opportunities and create a transformative impact at the grassroots.

Marvi Memon, Chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Program, and the chief guest at Hunar ke Rang 2017, recognizes this well. "We need synergies between initiatives such as Rang and various government's programs including the Benazir Income Support Program. The government needs to learn from such pilots and actively participate in scaling them up," she said.


Co-creation for regional harmony and cultural celebration

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One of the highlights of the fashion show at Hunar ke Rang 2017 was its tribute to the creative synergy of South Asia between Pakistan, Nepal and India. This was done through a unique 'co-creation' ensemble showcasing a range of garments by Pakistani designers by integrating skills from other JSDF supported projects such as hand woven textiles from the Jiyo project in India, and natural fibre textiles from the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) implemented project in Nepal.

Suggested by the project's Task Team Leader, Vinayak Ghatate, the 'co-creation' range sought to celebrate the diverse and shared cultural heritage of Pakistan and its neighbours, and explore possibilities for cross cultural and cross border product-centric partnerships. It was particularly exciting to witness the launch of an innovative concept of co-creation involving skills from three JSDF supported projects from India, Nepal and Pakistan. India’s Jiyo’s ikat and venkatgiri yardages from Andhra Pradesh and bavanbuti from Bihar along with Nepal’s allo yardage had travelled to Pakistan for value addition by Pakistani artisan’s delicate embroideries, with the showcasing of a unique South Asian range. 

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"Culture needs to play a much larger role in South Asia to bring and re-establish peace, harmony, empowerment and diversity," said Rajeev Sethi, chairperson, Asian Heritage Foundation.

In line with this thought, Hunar ke Rang 2017 concluded with the announcement of two upcoming events, a mega event in Kathmandu scheduled on December 14-16, 2017 to showcase JSDF’s artisan livelihood project implemented by the Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) and Jiyo’s seventh year celebration in Delhi during the 4th week of March, 2018.

We look forward meeting you in Kathmandu and Delhi. Please keep an eye on this page for more updates. 


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