Mohammad Ayub Lone makes pictures of different species of flowers, birds and animals on shawls that not only attract customers but generate good income too.
While narrating his journey of shawl designing and its peak time in Kashmir, he said he was inspired by one of his relatives Abdul Aziz Dar. To learn this art, Lone left his education mid-way and started learning designing from the veteran artist (Dar).
“I was studying in 8th class when I got inclined towards this art. After I developed an interest in work, I left my studies and joined a full-time craft artist. I used to make any painting and then use the same design in shawls,” he said.
Out of a 5-member family, Lone along with his wife and daughter, are striving hard to keep the age-old legacy alive. His daughter has taken lead in learning the unique art and is currently pursuing her graduation.
Lone, is a well-known master craftsman called ‘Vasta’ (senior craftsmen) in his area and many people including young artisans admire him for his skills. Hehas trained more than 200 artisans in the valley and is associated with shawl designing for several decades.
“Shawl designing is a symbol of artist’s perseverance, dedication and hard work. It involves a lot of time and patience of a craftsman,” he said.
The veteran artist said he was more inclined toward paintings of nature and animals which got him fame among people.“I designed hundreds of shawls and made them attractive.Each piece of mine is a masterpiece,” he said.
“For those who religiously consider their artwork as worship or prayer, it sometimes takes more than a year or two, to create a masterpiece. The artisan, as well as the customer, takes a lot of pride in creating and wearing such shawl,” Lone said.
In present cultural scenario and economic environment, he said, when mechanization is considered the most profitable for mass production, these craft traditions face serious challenges and many of Indian heritage skills are at risks of being lost forever
The veteran artist said the design work on Kashmiri shawls requires hard work, dedication and concentration of a maker. “This form of art is quite different from other types of embroidery,” he said.
Kashmir’s handloom sector has a unique place in the socio-economic structure of the valley and women have time and again contributed for it. With hard work and dedication, his wife and daughter also help him in the shawl making, designing and this is the source of livelihood for them.
Lone believes designing shawls is the most respectable job but over the past several decades, craftsmen were neglected by government by not supporting them the way they should be supported.
“Although many schemes were initiated by government but benefits were only provided to selective persons,” he said.
“Shawl weaving is a generational art. Since labourers are unable to earn more than Rs 150 a day, weavers have stopped teaching the art to their children, thereby endangering it. Out of my three children, only my daughter is interested to continue and take this legacy forward,” Lone said.
The 42-year-old artist said skills are a gift of nature, which they are using not only to promote the heritage but also for providing employment to themselves and others.
“We need to save art forms because these are our main source of income. The exporters still have the potential to change their business. The artisan has nothing but his art which keeps them going," he said.
Lone said the middlemen have also reduced the number of knots per square which has been done to cut costs. However, it produces lower-quality shawls, which has also led to the downfall in the image of Kashmiri shawls across the globe.
Lone is not only a designer but also a trainer. He has been training young artists in order to encourage them to learn the art.
“We also give training to people who are interested in making shawls and other handicrafts. People of the village are happy and have been encouraged by these things. It has generated hope as many artisans who had left the traditional art are coming back now," he said.
Lone said it becomes obligatory for us to support the work of artisans, facilitate and motivate them to maintain the craft. It would also encourage the upcoming younger generation to enthusiastically learn, innovate, and create their individual styles, along with carrying on the legacy and not worrying about financial issues and fame.
Kashmiri shawls have a rich history and have been in vogue across the globe for centuries. However, technological limitations in the market have led to the decline of the authentic Kashmiri design.
Lone’s daughter, Shabnum Bano said she also helps her father in order to keep the craft alive. “Although we do not make much money but we don’t leaveany stone unturned to preserve the generations-old art,” Bano said.