Master artisan find the missing link

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Gujranwala: February 2014: “This is my visiting card; you can contact me round the clock,” says an excited Muhammad Saleem Mughal the moment a keen onlooker comes to a halt in front of his stall. Saleem is an internationally renowned craftsman with extraordinary skills in wood art. He has displayed his masterpieces at an exhibition, which gives him a rare occasion to meet admirers of this art in large numbers.

Saleem manages a small museum in his city, Gujranwala, where he keeps replicas of the work he produces for his local and international clients. The Quranic verses and holy transcripts carved out of wood are also on display.

A single piece takes anywhere from two months to over two years to complete. He is usually so involved in his work that he has little time to market it.

A few yards from Saleem’s stall sits Muhammad Ejaz, a middle-aged artisan whose expertise is truck art. He is carefully paining a piece of crockery with a brush specially designed for the purpose. He has drawn some food items in the vibrant hues one usually finds emblazoned on the bodies of commercial trucks all over Pakistan. Here, this colour scheme adorns decorative items, frames, crockery, lanterns, and other assorted paraphernalia – each one more eye-catching than the last.

Saleem and Ejaz are two of the 150 or so master crafts persons assembled from across Pakistan to display and sell their wares at the Lahore Heritage Museum (Old Tollinton Market) at the Mall, Lahore.

The exhibition is part of a comprehensive project to help master artisans develop market linkages and train younger artistans, thereby helping keep these arts alive. Executed by the Sungi Development Foundation, the venture is supported by international donors, the European Union (EU), the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany, through the TVET Reform Support Programme, implemented by the GIZ.

Titled “Creating Opportunities for Skilled Artisans and Workers,” the project intends to provide training to 768 marginalised artisans, especially those from lower-income groups in rural districts, explains Mahmood Akhtar, Communication & Media Coordinator of the Sungi Development Foundation.

The beneficiaries, he says, are mostly home-based workers living in far-flung areas of the country with limited or no links to the big markets. Quite often they are unaware of who buys their products or even that the lion’s share of the profit goes to the middlemen.

The artisans targeted under the project have been selected from different fields of work such as embroidery, Balochi crafts, Hunza crafts, block printing, ajrak, jisti/phulkari, gota kinari, chunri/tie & dye, Swati woolen shawls, khes, khaddar, sussi, lungi, gabba work, carpet weaving, daree weaving, lacquer art, woodwork, blue pottery, ceramics, paper mache, beadwork, basketry, camel bone work, metalwork, truck art, and stone carving. They have been flown in and given a display area at no cost to them.

Lubna Tariq, an artisan from Haripur, terms the availability of display options a blessing for people like herself. She says that they cannot afford to pay the huge amounts for stalls at exhibitions put on by export centers and five-star hotels.

Lubna has sold dozens of hand-embroidered suits and wasted little time negotiating with visitors over prices. She believes her prices are reasonable prices so there is little room for haggling. Sales, however, are not her sole objective. “I have exchanged contacts with some people who intend to enter into joint ventures with me in the near future,” she elaborates.

Muhammad Kaleem Rajput is another beneficiary whose work is selling like hotcakes. Awarded the UNESCO-South Asian Seal of Excellence in 2007 at Lok Virsa, Islamabad, he excels in traditional Multani glasswork called Multani Minakari. Earlier, his products were considered old-fashioned; but now, thanks to the training he received through the project on how to modernize his craft, his clientele is expanding rapidly.

Mrs Hina Kaleem, his wife, is also an expert in the art and is excited about receiving a large number of orders. “Earlier, we knew we could only produce work for installation in mosques, etc. Our designs were purely for our rural clientele,“ she says. “Today, we are working on current trends that meet the demands of the urban and international markets.”

The modernity in their art is just one of the upshots of the training these artisans received through the Sungi project. Mahmood points out that the trainees also learned group management, skill development (or enhancement), colour scheming, product design and development, quality control, pricing, raw material purchase, marketing as well as the economic rights of home-based/informal workers, their health for sustainable improvement in their earnings, etc.

Learning, however, wasn’t the only thing on the agenda.

To achieve this end, she says, the master artisans were asked to train five students each in their respective fields of expertise, preferably in their localities. They were offered a financial incentive in the form of a stipend on the completion of these trainings.

This way, the project nurtured not just skill development, but skill longevity as well.

This project was funded under the Fund for Innovative Training (FIT) programme- a multilateral initiative co-funded by the European Union (EU), the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany, and managed by the GIZ.

Fact Box

Project:
GIZ Project

Name:
TVET Reform Support Programme At Glance

Location:
Gujranwala, punjab

“Encouraging the younger generations to take up these arts is another major focus area of the project,”

says Kalsoom Akhtar, Project Coordinator of the Enterprise Development Program at Sungi.




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