Conserving cultural heritage through traditional crafts
Karachi: Traditional crafts which were a redeeming feature of our cultural heritage of thousands of years are directly threatened with extinction by the forces of modernisation and development.
This was the crux of the movie produced by Nameera Ahmed screened on the second and final day of the seminar on ceramics and ceramics interpretation at the VM Art Gallery on Sunday.
The two-day seminar was one of the series of collateral events of the three-week Ansa Clay Triennial being held in town and featuring ceramics artists, apart from Pakistan, from a large number of foreign countries.
The movie is based on Ahmed’s interviews and visits to the Karachi locality of Kumharwara which has been home to potters for almost 126 years (1887 to be precise). The film outlines how over the years these potters, who immigrated much before partition of the sub-continent from Gujerat (India), have been facing problems sometimes of location and sometimes of demands for their products plummeting on account of growing cosmopolitanism and market forces. The respondents, most of them rather aged, describe how their colony was built in1887 and how since then they’ve been uprooted moved around all over town just to make room for governmental schemes including the housing scheme for a very important segment of the bureaucracy.
Other things that, according to the film, are responsible for the craft being threatened are the fact that today the trend to carry on the hereditary family vocation is disappearing and the offspring of many of the traditional potters are taking to vocations entailing more advanced modern technology. However, the main issue is one of shortage of land and government apathy.
This also was the subject of the talk by Saadia Saleem of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She also dwelt on the contemporary trends in ceramics. She traced the millennia of history of pottery of the Indus Valley civilization. The development of glazed pottery during the Muslim era was also dwelt upon by the speaker. Talking about Kumharwara, she said that kinship and family traditions also motivated the potter’s vocation but acknowledged that it was threatened.
Kristine Michael from India, in her talk, titled, Hues of Heaven, threw light on the mingling of the Persian mystic influences and Hinduism which featured in ceramics designs. She talked of the absorption of the cultural diversity into the Indian melting pot.
This melting pot, she said, comprised the advent of the Muslim rule and influences of Persia and West Asia which later mingled with Hindu and Buddhist influences.
Noted archaelogist Dr Asma Ibrahim, in her talk, titled, “Talking shards”, talked about the excavations at Bhanbore by the team of which she too was a part. She traced the link of this pottery with the pottery of the Neolithic era. Hers was an informative talk complete with slides of the site of the excavations.
Claude Presset from Switzerland gave an account of her experience with the painting of ceramics which, she said, was inspired by the sceneries of Europe. She described her various colouring techniques.
The post-lunch session featured a lecture, “Between past and present”, by art critic and journalist by Amra Ali. She described the threatening influences to the millennia-old craft posed by the onslaught of unbridled capitalism and the modern global trend whereby only the very rich have access to the achievement of proficiency in the arts, thus breeding class consciousness and discrimination.
This was followed by a panel discussion presided over by Neelofer Farrukh. One of the discussants pointed out certain anomolies in modern information techniques nd highlighted news items like the US Drones killing people in Pakistan and all of a sudden the news item being interrupted by an Ad highlighting the role of USAID in the advancement of education in Pakistan.