Friday, 10 May 2013

shades of Pakistan

above: an old man carrying cotton sacks in Peshawar,
photo © by Mohammad Sajjad/AP
below: drying up previously dyed fabric in Lahore,
photo © by Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
The beauty of Pakistan lies in its unique natural
wonders: in the sky high snowcapped peaks of
Himalaya, the lush green fields of the valleys, its
mighty rivers and lakes or in the sandy dunes of
Thar and Cholistan deserts as well as in the
mysterious remains of ancient cities flourished
in the Indus valley, yet its beauty is evident even
in the tiniest details of everyday life where every
shade of color is fixed by tradition, ethnic 
identities or religious beliefs.

above: textile vendors in Karachi textile market,
photo (part.) © by Steve Evans, CC
below: dyeing fabrics in a factory of Lahore,
photo © by K.M. Chaudary/AP
Pakistan means ”the land of the pure”, although as a
nation is only 66 years old, as a civilization it's almost
5,000 years old. Following Britain's withdrawal from
India, the country was created in 1947 and named
after Punjab, Afghan border, Kashmir, BaluchISTAN,
the lands where the population was predominantly
Muslim and it's now one of the world's largest nations.

above: folk artist performing on Independence Day in Quetta,
photo © by Arshad Butt/AP
below: mosquito nets on display in Rawalpindi,
photo © by Anjum Naveed/AP
Pakistan has a very long tradition of growing cotton,
spinning and weaving as well as natural dyeing
techniques: I get such a buzz out of seeing the beauty
of the colorful textiles sold in bazaars and roadside
stalls overloaded with huge cotton satchels and
vibrant threads, overwhelmed by the lovely hues
of kurtas, saris, beaded tops and shawls and the
fineness of traditional embroideries and hats as
living symbols of a culturally diverse country where
even mosquito nets are brightly colored.

above: young boy reading Holy Qur'an in a Karachi mosque,
photo © by Athar Hussain/Reuters
below: a man trying on traditional hats in Peshawar,
photo © by Mohammad Sjjad/AP
Textiles are a major part of the Pakistani economy, the
textile sector enjoys a pivotal position in the country's
exports employing more than 14 million people, yet
Pakistan has almost zero share of branded and high-value 
fashion and sportswear textile in global markets, despite
a strong public demand for such products in Europe and
the US which is actually being fulfilled by its competitors,
namely India, China and Bangladesh. Astonishingly,
Pakistan gets about $10.2 billion of its $12.5 billion
textile export revenue from 20 countries, however it
accounts for merely 5.7% of the total textile imports
of these 20 countries (source: The Express Tribune).

above: detail of a machine-embroidered Phulkari
below: traditional Swati stitching in close-up
Pakistan is obviously the birthplace of superb woven
fabrics such as the Phulkari, a traditional style of folk
embroidery born in the Punjab region where it stands
for ”flower work” with its geometric motifs in floss silk
or hand-woven cotton; traditional Shisha mirrors;
Sindhi and Swati embroideries. Swat is the name of
the war-torn valley seized by Taliban militants where
former Princess Mussarat Ahmed Zeb strives to revive
the heritage of the Swati embroidery ”one stich 
at a time” as she points out.

Princess Mussarat Ahmed Zeb, photo © by Julie McCarthy/NPR
The brave princess works to preserve the region's
traditional culture while empowering local women:
she taught hundreds of them ”to stand up, avoid
charity, earning with dignity” helping them in starting
up a small company where workers are the shareholders,
LaDore, gathering their vocational skills to recreate
unique needleworks on gorgeous homespun fabrics 
rekindling their cultural heritage and showing to the
world that they have talent and dignity.
That's where beauty and hope walk hand in hand.

detail of one of LaDore's wool embroidered tea cozies

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