Chikankari has lost traditional essence due to mkt forces: Designer Meera Ali

NEW DELHI
7 May 2017

Chikankari, known for its creative blend of intricate and delicate embroidery and fine motifs, is losing its original finesse in the process of revival, owing to economic exploitation of artisans and increasing market competition, designer Meera Ali has said.
Speaking at the launch of a new book 'Chikankari: A Lucknawi Tradition' by Paola Manfredi here recently, Ali said in the process of revival, it was important to give the artisans sufficient time to create the Chikan (embroidery) on different fabrics like muslin, silk, chiffon among others.
"Earlier craftsmen would spend a year on one Chikankari piece. It is obvious that the more time you give to the artist the better will be the outcome.
"Now because of the competition in the market, big companies and brands who pay artisans a meagre sum for the work, want them to deliver a piece in 15 days. How can you expect to get great embroidery in 15 days?" Ali said.
Ali, along with her fashion designer and director husband Muzaffar Ali, has revived the traditional craftsmanship of Lucknow through their international couture brand 'Kotwara'.
Looking back at her early years in Lucknow after marrying the 'Umrao Jaan' director, Ali remembered how the art of Chikan was almost lost 26 years ago with "unwearable and unusable" work being created.
"When I first went to Lucknow I found really sweet people, lovely language and culture but the saddest thing to see was that the Lucknow of real Chikankari that the entire world knows did not exist anymore.
"All the work that was being done in the name of Chikan was taken over by the middle man. What they were making was unwearable and unusable. There was a standard kurta that came out with two straight lines of daraz," the fashion designer said.
The book's author, who has lived and worked in India for over 30 years now, resonated Ali's thoughts about how the "emotionally charged" work is affected by exploitative practices.
"Chikankari is a highly evocative work and emotionally charged too. It is reputed to be one of the finest traditional embroideries from India. Chikankari embodies an ideal concept of aesthetics, but at the same time it is also a paradox.
"If on one hand it is the ultimate sophistication of its patrons, on the other it exemplifies exploitative practices by the patrons and abysmally low wages of the craftsmen," Paola said.
Also speaking at the event was activist and Indian handicrafts curator Jaya Jaitly, who said that while it was important to have well-researched work on Chikan, given the dearth of it, it should be the researcher's aim to bring recognition to the people behind such art forms.
"There is hardly any publication and literature about Chikan anywhere. There are probably some old records in some archives and museums somewhere. This book should fill that void.
"The writing should not be aimed at coming out as a scholar to the world but it should be able to stir people to be curious about the artisans behind these works of art. We should go to those small lanes and homes, sit with these people and work with them to see how they can be recognised and benefit economically and socially," Jaitly said.
It was not only the Chikankari artists who were living on meagre wages, Jaitly said that it was a major factor behind her becoming an activist seeing the miserable conditions of artists behind different craftworks across the country.
"What made me an activist was seeing such lovely work all over India. And when you go to track them down, the people who are doing it are in miserable conditions.
"And especially in Lucknow, it is only now that women and girls are coming out, learning to be designers themselves.
Otherwise they just sat there with their heads covered and some block printed pieces in front of them. And they would be paid a miserable amount. Nobody gave them credit for the actual crucial work that made it beautiful," Jaitly said. (PTI)