Srinagar: Mohammad Yousuf Muran is deaf and mute but a wizard with hands. His wood-carved figurines are a work of art, and if his relatives are to be believed, he is the last of his kind in Kashmir.
“Our family has been in this business for the last 200 years … it is a premium art in Kashmir. This craft is expensive and only high-end customers buy it. My uncle (Yousuf) is the only surviving artist that makes figurine wood carving,” Mudasir Muran, Yousuf Muran’s nephew, told PTI.
At present, the master craftsman is working on a figurine of Saint George, the patron saint of England and a soldier venerated in Christianity, in the act of slaying a dragon out of a single block of wood.
Mudasir says that his uncle has been working on this piece since 2017.
“He learned the craft from my father, who is now no more. This is one of the premium crafts in Kashmir. We call it figurine carving which is all done by hand.
“Even though my uncle is still at it, he does not get what he deserves. At the end of it, money matters,” Mudasir said.
Low pay has been the top factor for the younger people’s waning interest in the craft, even though it has a decent demand in international markets, he said.
“The government too hardly did its part and paid no attention to it,” Mudasir said. He said this craft has immense potential in local, national and international markets but the government has failed to show serious concern.
“Another reason for the art being on the verge of extinction is that the government pays the least interest in effective collaboration and implementing new ideas that were offered by us. No one came to my uncle to learn about this art because authorities did not bother to revive it,” he added.
Ghulam Nabi Dar, another wood carving artist, claims he too abandoned the craft due to low wages.
“As artists did not get fair compensation for their art, it became hard for them to survive and earn a livelihood. Some artists like me, who carried on this legacy of figurine art as long as they could, quit,” Dar said.
“This art takes a lot of time and the raw material, the wood. These are the reasons artists are giving up this art and I am one of those,” Dar said.
Dar said generally wood for the carving of figurines comes from the base of the tree trunk.
“Some of the pieces used to take me more than a year to complete. As this art takes a lot of hard work, dedication and time, unless they get good pay, artists cannot survive and eventually give up.
“I believe that the art is going to become extinct because no one is learning it,” Dar added.
Director Department of Handicrafts Kashmir Mehmood Shah said it has felicitated Yousuf Muran for his work and is also encouraging other artists to take up the craft. He admitted the wood carving craft has been in decline for years, but now the government is trying to revive it.
“We have one artist Mr Muran who we recently awarded and then there are other craftsmen who we are encouraging. We are trying to revive the art through centres and we are very hopeful that this art form will see a revival,” Shah said.
“In addition, we are trying to promote it through our platforms like Kashmir Government Arts Emporium. We have also put some of these in craft tours as we also want tourists to visit the workshops,” he said.
Shah said the Department of Handicraft has been running a scheme called ‘Karkhandar Scheme’ to revive languishing forms of crafts.
“To help artists sell and market their crafts, the department is connecting them with e-commerce platforms,” he added.
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