In the shadow of war, with increased military interventions, frozen turbulence, comes a collection by Wajahat celebrating the lost crafts of the region that now straddles the delicate balance of turmoil and peace.
By Asmita Aggarwal
In Akbar’s court there was once a challenge given to Kashmiri Muslim darners, if they could sew so dexterously, you couldn’t tell the front from the back—- they succeeded. They were elevated to the position of soznikars, for the way they could manipulate a needle. Today Kashmir is in debilitating turmoil and from stone pelting to insurgency it is wrought with multiple problems, but that didn’t stop Wajahat, also a teacher at Pearl Academy from attempting to resurrect what the Chinar blooming state is famous for.
The young designer from Srinagar, had dabbled in pashmina, rug making and menswear (for Good Earth), when he launched his label in 2013. The ground reality is quite different from what NGOs claim, he observes who show a militancy-hit family in exhibitions and make that the sales pitch, hoping for emotional purchases. Most generational artisans are workless, and the Old City where they reside is the most troubled area where stone pelting occurs, leaving them with no material to continue the craft resulting in late deliveries which cause loss of business with affluent clients.
Wajahat has strived to revive various crafts like Gabba, one of his favourites, where old woollen blankets are patched together to make floor coverings to beat the extreme snowfall. Fully sustainable and age-old, but now artisans embroider not recycle. “The grass growing in the Dal Lake, as a child I used to see craftsmen weaving mats out if it, now they have disappeared. Most of the sitting in Kashmir is on the floor, furniture has come in only in the last ten years or so,” he remembers.
He says that Made in India should benefit weavers, they must be entitled to loans, better wages, their quality of life must improve and medical facilities must be made mandatory. “For example, if you take Sozni, it is intricate threadwork, which can strain the eyes, regular eye checks ups are imperative, but most artisans can’t get two square meals, where will they find an optician?” he explains.
His SS’19 line is inspired by two unique art forms of Kashmir which is now struggling to breathe—-Pinjarkari and Khatamband. It celebrates Islamic architecture, in wood and was introduced by a Sufi poet Shah Hamadani. Pinjarkari requires mathematical precision and makes interlinked wooden laths that form an intricate pattern and are used as partitions or windows and are known for their jaali-like sanguinity. It uses the triangle, square and hexagon and then is coated with mud for a final finish. While Khatamband, comes from “Khatam” or reaching the end and ‘band’ or closing where two polygons are closed together with wooden beading. It traces its origins some say to Persia and is mostly used as ceiling art so when it is completed it resembles a night sky.
Wajahat has come a full circle with his SS’19 line, executed in fine counts of cotton and he admits, a sketch is different from how it will finally fall on the body, the two must be a perfect fit. “If you are taking up an art form, your line must justify it. I have used colours mostly smokey and thunder greys as well as forest greens, as we already have so many colours around us, I had to think and narrow it down,” he smiles.
His earliest exposure to fashion was to the ubiquitous phiran, a zero waist garment which for him resembled Pandora’s Box, in a way a kid’s playground. It had a lot of space between wearer and garment and was totally androgynous. “My silhouettes are inspired by how people wear clothes, we may buy the same things, but we style it differently. So I have anti-fit and predominantly layered ensembles,” he explains.
Growing up in a large family, in Anantnag, with a brother and sister, Wajahat, also a talented singer, studied at NID, Ahmedabad. “When people hear my name, they have already assumed what I will be like but NID was an extremely liberal place where my origin or religion didn’t matter. There was no politics of education and we were treated by teachers as professionals. Besides designing I learnt life skills, a lesson only few institutes can boost of,” he concludes.