Sunday, November 29, 2015

Kashmiri Paper Mache Boxes

                         I love it when my projects just start off as a project and along the way it triggers a memory…..I have experienced that trigger a few times in this year-long journey that I have undertaken of exploring the rich traditional arts and crafts of India.  This project too began the same way; as a project, as a personal exploration of the paper mache arts of Kashmir; but in one deep lost moment when I was painting the box…memories came together and I realized I have a personal connect with this project. I remembered a small shiny round floral box with red and orange flowers, a black inside, and a triangle notch, a box that my mother had, that she used to keep in a small cupboard in her dressing table and that this box had some red glass bangles, a small stick doll and some other odds and ends in it. Memories are so unpredictable.….I didn’t remember Ma’s box when I was looking at pictures of paper mache boxes, or when I was planning out this project, or when I was researching the history of these paper mache objects. This memory of amma’s box came up when I was painting, when I am usually lost deep in the process. In recollecting that memory now when I was working on this project; took Ma’s box from just being an object that sat on her dresser to something that’s alive, something that is more interesting, more relevant and imbued with meaning. This linking of Amma’s box aggregated different incidents and small moments from my childhood, conversations with Ma, memories revolving around the box; giving the box a new valuable meaning and identity, a soul, an essence. Ma’s box has simply ceased to be just a box that I might have been okay with losing and is now of treasured valuable significance.

                        I called up dad, sent him a close similar picture of a paper mache box that I pulled from the internet and asked him to look for amma’s box. I remembered where it could be exactly and dad found it. Here’s Ma’s Kashmiri paper mache box: pictures taken on a phone camera by my dad in Bangalore, India. Dad remembers buying this box in Jammu at the local Raghunath bazaar in 1973 when they were stationed there right after their marriage. Memories….I am sure this triggered many for daddy too.

                             Many of my readers in India or from India will find these paper mache boxes familiar….we used to see them all the time in local exhibitions and handicraft fairs.
Like these:

                      Paper Mache is a delicate decorative art, born in Persia originally and brought to Kashmir by a Kashmiri Prince who spent years in a prison at Samarkand in Central Asia. The art was further encouraged by mogul emperors that came from Uzbekistan in Central Asia in the 15th and 16th century and ruled India for nearly 200-300 years. Inspired by the serene and beautiful valley of Kashmir, the lakes and meadows, the majestic snow clad mountains, this art took root in the simple homes of local people and evolved into a rich traditional folk art form. The creativity and romance of this art was then passed down the family through the generations.

                    Kashmiri paper mache objects are distinctively identifiable by the wonderfully vibrant, extremely detailed, and intricate small hand painted motifs of flowers bursting in full bloom and birds singing, and the illuminated finish on them.

                   The creation of a papier-mâché object can be divided into two distinct categories, the sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface). In the traditional method of making these paper mache objects, waste paper is soaked in water for several days until it disintegrates. After the excess water is drained, the soaked paper is mixed with rice straw, cloth, and copper soleplate to form a pulp.  This mixture is packed into molds of different shapes and left to dry for two to three days. After it dries, the shape is cut away in two halves and then glued again. The surface is then brushed with a layer of glue and gypsum, smoothened with a stone or hardened clay, and finally pasted with several layers of tissue paper. A neutral base color is painted on and now the piece is ready for the detailed painting work.

                     The intricate design painted are always done free hand and are usually of very small florals and birds in bright colors, and with a strong Persian flair. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only color, or as a highlight for certain motifs. Among other rich designs are 'Arabesque', done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines and 'Yarkand', an elaborate design built up in spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers laid over gold scroll work. The colors used were obtained by soaking and grinding vegetable and mineral dyes into pigments. Finally the object is sandpapered or burnished and is finally painted with several coats of lacquer. This lacquer gives the finished product a high gloss and smoothness, and increases with every coat applied and is a very distinctive feature of Kashimiri paper mache products. Another noticeable feature is that the boxes have a triangle notch that works as a locking mechanism. The result is an exquisite art piece object that also serves as a utility piece. 
               Changing with the times, Kashmiri paper mache products have become highly stylized and modern and now include Christmas ornaments, coasters, napkin holders, some have real gold or silver used in them, some are made with wood or cardboard instead of paper mache as it is cheaper and less time and effort intensive.

Here's my attempt of the Kashmiri paper mache boxes:

I began with a store bought small light wood box that I base painted in a neutral warm white color. 

I decided on florals with twirling vines and paisleys, a pattern true to kashmir crafts, patterns that you might see on boxes and their famous pashmina shawls and other embroidery pieces. 

After several coats of a high gloss lacquer


Wikipedia has a history of different methods of paper mache as done in different parts of the world here:

Check out a large variety of products for inspiration here:

Videos to watch:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Phad Paintings

                   "It's important for the explorer to be willing to be led astray."
                                                                                                            --Roger von Oech

                Most of you who have been reading my explorative blog posts would have seen my recent past post on Jaipur Blue pottery. In true explorative intent, that journey took me to discovering Phad Paintings. Here I was meandering through the internet learning and absorbing when I chance upon this form of painting called Phad Paintings. I had never heard or seen Phad paintings before. “Not all who wander are lost”, a well-fitting quote came to mind. Well! What a treat. I just had to put my other projects aside and get straight down to attempting this. It was absolutely a pleasure discovering this art form.   
              Though not so well known, Phad paintings originated in 1629. Rajasthan’s Phad paintings are unique ethnic paintings painted on long pieces of cloth called ‘Phad’. The paintings are panoramic scroll paintings usually large, about 15-30 feet, done in vibrant colors highlighting the deeds of heroes, deities and gods, and legends and stories of erstwhile maharajas.

             The Bhopas, the priest-singers traditionally carry the painted phads along with them and use these as mobile temples of the folk deities. The paintings depicting exploits of local deities are often carried from place to place and are accompanied by traditional singers, who narrate the theme depicted on the scrolls. Phad paintings bear the task of representing a complex and extensive folk narrative which is achieved through a very specific style of representation, filled with figures and pictorial incidents, these paintings form a kind of dramatic backdrop to epic storytelling. They are customarily opened or unrolled only after sundown, when people gathered for an all-night performance.

            These paintings are magnificent in their minute detail work. The outlines are drawn in bold black and filled with colors. The outlines of the figures are also first drawn in black and later filled with colors. Every available inch is crowded with figures. A unique feature is the two dimensional flat treatment of the figures and the stacked scene construction of the paintings. The canvas is incongruously filled with figures and different scenes are depicted in separated blocks. The scale of the figure depends on the social status and importance of the character they represent and the role they play in the story. Another interesting feature is that the figures in the paintings do not face the audience, rather they face each other.

            The colors used are natural colors extracted from vegetables, fruits, and flowers. A multi chromatic color palette is a significant characteristic of phad paintings. For example: orange symbolizes physical might and power of the hero, yellow to signify golden ornaments, red for clothes on the characters, green for foliage, blue for water, and general narrative is done in grey.

            Most famous heroes depicted in these folk style paintings and songs are Goga Chauhan, Prithviraj Chauhan, Amar Singh Rathore, Papuji Ramdevji and Dev Narainji.

So here it is...My own hand drawn original Phad Painting!!

             For my attempt of Phad paintings, though mine would technically be called drawings, I tried to stay as true to the original Phad paintings as possible and I did not take much creative liberty with this project. I did practice drawing the figures several several times. The faces of the figures are almost the same and made drawing a practiced repetition. I would have liked to have drawn the figures a little bigger especially in the larger canvas as it would have made drawing a little easier. But I was using an un-erasable pen and there was no going back. Nevertheless I managed to give the figures a lot of detail. I liked the drawings without color too as it highlighted the details and intricacies of the line drawings. But I love the colored look too. So I made another one…sort of as an accompaniment to the big one. The large canvas is 12'' by 24" and the smaller one is 11' by 14". In the big one you see the princess bride with her bridal procession and in the smaller one you see the king going to receive his bride. To finish and tie-in both the canvases, I painted a yellow and red border as is customarily seen in Phad paintings. 

                    I have loved this exploration journey that I undertook this year and I do have a few more projects that I will be attempting and sharing with you. Many of the projects that I tried; I have known, seen, read about, and heard of before; but in exploring them, I began at the very beginning and I learnt, enjoyed, and more significantly experienced these art forms firsthand, all over again in a new and personal way. What else can be a greater reward for our journeys.

Credits for my material: