This artist from Kashmir has created ancient map of Srinagar on cloth using papier-mâché technique

National award winning artist Maqbool Jan from Srinagar has made an old map of Srinagar city on cloth using the papier-mâché technique and water colours.
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Winner of four National Awards and one International Award, Maqbool Jan, an artist from Srinagar’s Lal Bazar area, has made an old map of the city on cloth using the papier-mâché technique and water colours.

The 56-year-old artist from Srinagar wants to see this work displayed in the Indian Parliament.

“It took me two years to draw the ancient map of Srinagar city on a 5 x 7 ft white cloth using the papier-mâché technique. It will take another one month to complete it,” says Jan, who is a registered artisan with the Department of Handicrafts.

He adds that his wish is to see his masterpiece put up in the Parliament, Kashmir assembly, or in a museum.

“The new generation should see our culture through our art. It would give a lot of boost to artisans of Kashmir valley. The papier-mâché is the heart of our heritage,” he says.

Maqbool Jan with his art work showing the ancient map of Srinagar city

Jan tells YourStory that the thought of making the old map of Srinagar city came to his mind when he saw his city losing its glory due to the pollution of water bodies, encroachments, and illegal constructions.

“Through this art, I am sending a message louder and clearer that we should preserve our heritage. Kashmir is known for its natural beauty and pristine glory and we should try to protect it.”

Jan further says: “I want to show how our famous Dal Lake looked like in ancient Srinagar, and how old Srinagar looked. How our shrines, mosques, and gardens looked earlier. In order to boost the tourism sector, we should look after our tourist destinations.”

Jan got inspired to make this map from a shawl that is displayed at the Srinagar Museum. The map on that shawl is drawn by Sozni work. Jan wanted to recreate the same with papier-mâché.

The papier-mâché art

There is no such school where the youth of Kashmir Valley are taught the art of papier-mâché, but Jan has attempted to train dozens of students so far.

Inside his residence in Mughal Mohalla area of Lal Bazar, Jan is working alongside his co-worker Firdous Hussain Jan and wife. In one room, Jan and his co-worker are busy with papier-mâché work and in another room his wife is painting the vessels, glasses, and other papier-mâché items.

Soon after he lost his father, Jan joined the art and created an unmatched craft.

“Sadly there is no institute where the papier-mâché can be taught. Since long, the artists have been demanding that a degree course should be introduced by the institutions of Kashmir valley to uplift this art form,” says Jan.

In 2015, Maqbool won the National Award for papier-mâché and was presented with the award by the President of India at a grand ceremony in New Delhi in honour of the artisans from across the country.

With over 40 years of experience, Maqbool is a prolific painter and papier-mâché artist from Kashmir, having already won a state award in 2013.

Maqbool Jan working on the old Srinagar city map with his co-worker

Kashmir and papier-mâché art

Historically, the papier-mâché art was introduced to Kashmir in the 15th century by a Kashmiri prince who had spent years in prison in Samarkand in Central Asia.

However, some believe the history of papier-mâché in the region goes back to the 14th century, when a Muslim saint — Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, known as Shah-e-Hamdan — brought skilled artists to Kashmir from Persia.

During the Sultanate period in Kashmir in the 14th century, a large number of migrants, especially those from Persia and Central Asia, travelled to Kashmir and introduced many arts and crafts, believed historians.

The art of papier-mâché has been passed on orally from one generation to the next. Today, one can still find papier-mâché artisans in the narrow bylanes of Srinagar’s downtown.

A dying art form

Jan also laments that he is not earning enough from this art and demanded the government to promote papier-mâché art so that artisans will live a good life.

“I want the papier-mâché art to reach our future generations, but I am afraid if youth will find interest in it, given the paltry income an artist is able to generate. I have always demanded the government to take care of artists so that more craft is created, which will uplift the tourism sector of Jammu & Kashmir. I have always realised that tourists are fond of local craft,” he says.

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Edited by Megha Reddy