By Aown Ali
Located in the suburbs of Multan, about 10 km from the main city at Bahawalpur road, Ustad Alam Institute of Blue Pottery is a place where the art of Kashigari is being exercised on an industrial scale. Expanded over vast premises the center is, in fact, a factory equipped with modern machines for stone grinding, ceramic moulding, painting and firing. The place provides on the job training opportunity to learn pottery and Kashigari.
The institute is owned by Ustad Muhammad Alam, the acclaimed artisan of Kashigari. He has a career of over 60 years in the craft and has bagged many prizes including Presidential Award and UNESCO award. This humble artist who is the best judge of the worth of his craft still considers himself as a learner of Kashigari.
The story goes that the craft originated from Kashgar, in the Xinjiang region in China, from there it went to Iran and then to Multan and some other cities of India. Iranians though have great masters of this art but the Multanis deserve accolades for advancing the work of craft.
Ustad Alam is a proud pupil of Mian Allah Wasaya who was one from the league of great Kashigar artisans of Multan including Mian Rahim Bux and Ustad Allah Diaya.
While talking about the phases of blue pottery Ustad Alam told the craft has gone through a major transition in recent times as ceramics is being used instead of its traditional material: the red clay. The reason for this modification, he told, is water pollution.
According to him, the clay used for blue pottery was taken from the middle of Indus River. It was the best material to make delicate pots but with increasing pollution in water, the clay got some unsuitable ingredients due to which making a fragile pot from that was not possible.
Ustad Alam recalls that time with great concern when the craft of decorated pottery was on verge of extinction. About 30 years ago, it was him who came up with a novel solution to use ceramics for blue pottery. The experience proved successful and saved the craft from its total disappearance.
Other than Ustad Alam’s institute there is also an Institute of Blue Pottery Development in Multan run by TEVTA. At this place 3 and 6 months courses are taught on different techniques of blue pottery and Kashigari but the number of students there is only a few. The institute is depending on its outdated machinery and natural gas connection of its furnaces is disconnected since long.
Both these institutes are established with the said objective to develop the traditional crafts of blue pottery and Kashigari, however, some craftsmen complain that these institutes have become commercial factories of glazed and painted pots rather than institutions for the development of craftsmanship.
Backed by the governmental support and large resources these institutions are producing at mechanical speed and quantity but an ordinary artisan can’t compete with them in prices although the quality of work of these artisans is far better than these factories.
These factories employ artisans on nominal wages and sell their master pieces at exorbitant prices.
The artisans demand that government should support them with low cost material and help them to set up their own furnaces. Otherwise, very soon the craft of blue pottery and Kashigari would be engulfed by large industrial units and poor artisans would have only their place as wagers there.
During my recent visit to Multan to highlight the problems facing craftsmen and the art of Kashigari, I captured some of the glimpses through the lens to present here:
About Author: Aown Ali is a Lahore based photojournalist with interest in culture, architecture and history.
All Photos by the author.