By Sonya Rehman
This month, the Daachi Foundation – a not-for-profit initiative that aims at promoting the local arts and crafts – hosted a wonderful art exhibition at Lahore’s glorious Tollington Market.
On a nippy December day, the market was abuzz. Amidst stalls and tables, local Pakistani artisans had put up their beautiful wares for sale; everything from Swati furniture, ethnic ceramics, Sindhi tiles, pottery, one-off handmade jewelry pieces, bags, apparel, lamps, decoration pieces, truck art, and other wonderful, colorful goodies to decorate one’s home with. Infact, to my surprise, I even bumped into Haji Sahib’s son who was at the exhibition selling his father’s truck art! (Haji Sahib is one of Pakistan’s veteran truck artist’s who I had the pleasure of interviewing last month for The Friday Times).
There was music and there was food: delicious vegetarian bran bread sandwiches, chaat, hot coffee, chai and more were sold at a cute little food court, set-up right outside the entrance for tired, hungry shoppers.
“Fairs like Daachi’s are the backbone for the poor, hardworking craftsmen and a gold mine for people like us,” stated Mohyuddin Khan, of ‘Forgotten Crafts.’ Khan’s products had taken a large section in one of the halls. Stunning hand-woven baskets, rugs and furniture were spread out in a haze of colors. Dressed in a bright yellow kurta and jeans, the bespectacled Khan stated that local artisans don’t have the privilege of getting a foot in the door vis-à-vis international markets. “Daachi is one platform that allows hardworking craftsmen to display their products to art lovers. I have seen craftsmen grow through Daachi and other platforms,” he says, “We do have a very rich culture and [the country] is producing amazing art. The West is amazed by the art work we produce and the quality we maintain.”
Right next to ‘Baji Kay Bastay’ – a cute initiative by an entrepreneur called Amra Khan, who sells the prettiest ethnic hand bags, purses and wallets, I came across Durre Sameen’s stall of intricate truck art pieces. Eek, I wanted to buy up her stall! From boxes, trays and mirrors, I was excited to meet Sameen in person since I’d been following her work for a while, through her Facebook page (which goes by the name of ‘Rangdey Truck Art’).
“Exhibitions like this in any healthy society should be the norm,” Sameen said, when I called her up a few days after the exhibition. “It’s absolutely vital for the health of the society you know. [Pakistani] society lacks a smile these days. Tollington Market should be handed over to Daachi – there should be regular exhibitions at a permanent place like Tollington for our artisans, else they will continue to lose out.”
Ayesha Noorani, a faculty member at the National College of Arts (NCA) and a committee member at Daachi, stated that this exhibition was the foundation’s fourth exhibition and that they hope to make it a bi-annual event. “A demand from both the visitors and the craftsmen made us go for another one this year,” she said.
For Noorani, an architect by profession, Daachi stands as her true calling. “Daachi Foundation is a collective effort by a dedicated team of volunteers from varied profession such as architects, designers, and educationists,” stated Noorani, “Our vision is basically guarding our heritage. This entails improving and upgrading our crafts and giving craftsmen income earning opportunities. We also provide opportunity to entrepreneurs to start their own business.”
Currently Daachi is hard at work trying to raise funds to build an ‘artisan’s village’ on Raiwind Road, in Lahore. “That is our ultimate goal,” Noorani says. The village, Noorani informed me, is due to have approximately 55 stalls for local, Pakistani craftsmen and entrepreneurs to sell their arts and crafts, an eating area for families and visitors, a workshop and performance area, a gallery, and also, best of all, living quarters for the artisans.
Given the number of craftsmen at Daachi’s recent exhibition, Noorani mentioned that it hasn’t been an easy feat, tracking down artisans across Pakistan. “It was years of effort of visiting different forums, travelling all over Pakistan and approaching various entrepreneurs to showcase their work,” she says, “This year we had about 80 different people from all over Pakistan, some of them were sponsored, we paid for their travel expense, arranged free accommodation, and gave them free tables. Some of our craftsmen did so well after our firstexhibition that they bought stalls from us. That is our success story. We gave them a platform and rest was their effort.”
Given Daachi’ mission of reviving and promoting local art and culture, does the country still nurture a strong demand for Pakistani arts and crafts? Yes, Noorani agrees. “Our culture is our identity,” she says, “A nation will only rise if it is proud of its identity. So far judging by the turnout at our exhibitions, I’d say that there is a great demand and appreciation for our crafts. Not only do visitors look forward to Daachi Exhibitions each year but the craftsmen also deeply appreciate the opportunity to showcase their work and enthusiastically participate. I’d say our crafts are definitely not dying out.”
The Friday Times