Kashmir art steers clear of conflict's impressions, images: author Ames | india | Hindustan Times
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Kashmir art steers clear of conflict's impressions, images: author Ames

While the conflict has impacted all aspects of life in Kashmir, there is one that has stayed clean: Kashmir's art. Frank Ames, a famous art writer, sees Kashmiri artists steering clear of the images of gore and imprints of weapons while weaving shawls, particularly world famous Kani shawls.

india Updated: Apr 19, 2010 19:08 IST
Peerzada Ashiq

While the conflict has impacted all aspects of life in Kashmir, there is one that has stayed clean: Kashmir's art. Frank Ames, a famous art writer, sees Kashmiri artists steering clear of the images of gore and imprints of weapons while weaving shawls, particularly world famous Kani shawls.

"It's not like in Afghanistan or Balushistan where the carpets were knotted with patterns of Kailashnikovs, helicopters and tanks in Kashmir," said Amesin an interview to Hindustan Times.

Ames said, "One will learn from my book how the warring Sikh presence in the Punjab, Ranjit Singh's cultural idiosyncrasies, and the foreign mercenaries, all influenced the Kani shawl. "No, today we do not yet find terrorist-looking characters woven into shawls or carpets," said Ames.

The writer released his new book 'Woven Masterpieces of Sikh Heritage' last week in New Delhi. His first book on Kani shawl 'The Kashmir Shawl and Its Indo-French Influence' is a rare book on the shawl weaving in the state.

"My new book reveals the events and ideas that transpired within this Khalsa (Sikh Brotherhood) movement, transforming the Kashmir shawl to one of powerful ethnic proportions. During this era of Punjab's colorful history, a variety of complex and enigmatic patterns emerged, some purely geometric, others symbolic, which have long eluded textiles experts," said Ames.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh takeover of Kashmir in 1819 and Ames said he "had an extraordinary impact on the fashion of the legendary Kashmir shawl, giving rise to a major artistic expression in the subcontinent".

Ames, however, has a bad news: decline in the quality of Kani shawl. "The techniques used a century ago are mostly lost, those who weave the Kani shawls now cannot spin the wool as fine as they did a hundred years ago. Artists have also lost the magical vegetal dye techniques of yore. Kani shawls are being woven but do not match in the complexity of design that were prevalent of a century ago," said Ames, who spent five years from 1980-85 to write a book on the Kani shawl.

The author sees a ray of hope for shawls now. "Today there are many private companies doing it and slowly they are coming up with a decent product, expensive but very acceptable but still not a match for the tour de force of weavings of a hundred years ago," he added.

Ames underscores the positives of the globalisation on the reach of Kashmiri art. "The Kashmir merchants have ingrained in him the travel bug. Even throughout the centuries he travelled all over India and set up shops. Now more than ever, what with the conflict, he's put down roots far and wide, importing his crafts to foreign lands.