By Aown Ali
The sun is dipping below horizon and corridor of Multan Art & Craft Bazaar is dark. There is no customer, even for window shopping. It’s time to wind up business, but in a corner a craftsman is piercing in leather piece embossing a precise flower design.
Meet Haq Nawaz, a leading artist of Okair Sazi or the art of the paper cut work.
Okair is a Siraiki word which means to emboss, by this way the art of Okair Sazi is considered an indigenous art of Multan but Masood Akhtar in his research paper “Okair Sazi: The Traditional Paper Cut Work of Multan”, argues that it started centuries ago in China.
Nawaz is the disciple of Ustad Ustad Niaz Ahmed who gave this craft a new life 50 years ago. As initially, Okair was merely a supporting craft which was used for embroidery on Khussa with golden and silver threads. But Ustad Niaz used his expertise in such a creative way to embellish poetry verses, invitation cards, logos and monograms and later on writing pads and book titles.
Nawaz is a brilliant disciple of his Ustad. He spent 25 years working under the supervision of Ustad. Nawaz told Ustad Niaz Ahmed had trained 76 disciples, out of those only three are still working.
Nawaz has his due share along with his Ustad in developing Okair Sazi to such a high level where it’s now recognized as a particular form of art rather than a supporting art of Khussa making. He practices his art to garnish different materials i.e. paper, hard board, leather and velvet.
Nawaz says that the craft of Okair Sazi and our craftsmanship has great potential but their wages are very low. “The government should arrange art and craft shows, nationally and internationally. It’s urgently required for the betterment of craftsmen and the craft”, He said.
Where all the traditional arts and crafts of Multan are facing a decline due to lack of patronage and governmental support, one is still thriving. It is a fascinating art of mosaic (glass cut work) in which Multan has made its recognition. The art has initially been used in palaces. We can find its finest examples in Sheesh Mahal of Lahore Fort, however, currently the art is being used primarily in mosques and shrines.
Another craftsman Muhammad Ajmal Chishti is in this art for 45 years. He learnt it from different experts and taught to dozens. Chishti told almost all his disciples have sufficient work and all are satisfied.
Chishti has not just performed this art for mosques and shrines but also made many mosaic portraits of national leaders including Quaid –e-Azam, Allama Iqbal and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Aown Ali is a Lahore based photojournalist with interest in culture, architecture and history.
All photos by the author.