Kashmiri Women Are Fighting to Keep the Centuries-Old Tradition of Papier-Mâché Art Alive
As a child, Masrat Jan, now 47 years old, would wait desperately for the month to end. That was when her mother along with her four siblings would travel to her father’s home in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, to visit her grandparents.
There, Jan was able to do what she loved most: play with colors.
Her grandfather ran a Karkhana — a workshop in which he and his workers spent hours drawing papier-mâché art, a craft where artisans mold various shapes out of mashed paper, wood, and other materials. After smoothing, or pishlawun, the objects are then decorated with different motifs.
Jan was mesmerized by the polished papier-mâché items like Santa Claus, Easter eggs, flower vases, elephants, cats and many others which would later be exported, mainly to Europe and the United States.
Papier-mâché has been practiced for centuries by Kashmiri artisans like Jan’s grandfather, who make their living from the craft. But, in recent years, just as Kashmiri papier-mâché has gained recognition in museums across the world, the renowned and beloved art has faced extinction.
The number of papier-mâché artisans has shrunk due to meager (and shrinking) wages, widespread health issues, and a lack of government support. Yet, Jan and her colleagues in Kashmir are determined to ensure the craft survives.