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November 18, 2019

Redefining Sindh’s textile culture abroad

Photo by reporter

LONDON: The Director of Mohatta Palace Museum Karachi is attempting to redefine the perception about Sindh’s vibrant textile culture abroad.

Nasreen Askari has just published a book in London called “The Flowering Desert: Textiles from Sindh” which exemplifies Nasreen Askari’s passion for Sindh’s culture and her commitment to the textile traditions of the province.

In an interview with Geo News at her home in Knightsbridge, not far from the Pakistan High Commission, Nasreen Askari said that the book was an attempt to promote a revised narrative about Pakistan — “to present an aspect of Pakistan that is both unknown and unheralded”.

She said that the book, co-authored with her husband Hasan Askari, is just one attempt to redefine perceptions about Pakistan and its diverse culture. “The more people that get involved in this effort, the better. I work at a museum in Karachi and we have a small museum shop. The most popular items at sale are the ones made by our artisans with their hands.”

For Nasreen, this has been a life-long odyssey. She co-curated the first ever exhibition of Pakistani textiles (Colours of the Indus) at a national museum in the United Kingdom in 1997-98. The exhibition was also shown at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. She is co-founder of the Mohatta Palace Museum, a position she has held for twenty years. Nasreen, originally an oral surgeon, developed an abiding interest in textiles in the early 1970’s, a conversion that she describes in her book.

The textile traditions of the country date back to 5000BC with evidence of woven clothes discovered in both Mohan jo Daro and Mehrgarh (in Balochistan), she said.

Nasreen Askari published a book in London called “The Flowering Desert: Textiles from Sindh”

Nasreen Askari said: “We are indebted to the British for documenting and preserving aspects of our culture and the V&A is a great repository of our traditions. It is unfortunate that we don’t get to see these objects very often. The skills of our craftsmen are unique and we should make every effort to sustain them. The book vividly illustrates the extent of their craft and the hope is that it will encourage support for both craftsmen and their product.”

Speaking about organising the iconic exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Nasreen Askari said that relationship of the United Kingdom with the sub-continent is deep and old.

“It’s because English artisans have studied here and kept arts pieces safe. V & A stores today from Pakistan and other parts what these countries don’t have. It was in 1997 when we thought of doing exhibition of Sindhi arts and culture for around three months. The exhibition went on for seven months and was so successful it went from London to Scotland and then to Pakistan. The clothes and arts pieces we brought from Sindh were hugely appreciated.”

She said that her boo’s focus is on Tharparker, East of Sindh, a desert area. “It’s a difficult terrain with extreme weather and people live in tough conditions. Recently some development work had happened. A firm has found coal in the area. This will help local people as houses have been made for them but their culture and artecraft will change.”

Hasan Askari, an investment banker by profession but now Chairman of a London-listed Company, said that his had been a supplementary role in the book. Hasan, a former trustee of the British Museum and a major collector of art and artefacts from Pakistan, has focused principally on the unappreciated importance of Sindh in the flow of ideas and goods between Central and West Asia and the Indian sub-continent. He has also written about the role of the Hindu in the development of Sindhi craftsmanship before Partition.

“I have just attempted to set the record straight—it is important to acknowledge that the culture of this province was not monochromatic. This is particularly relevant when all over the world, but more so in our neighborhood, perceived wisdom is being redrafted and a version of truth is emerging that is not consistent with truth as I have known it.”

Hasan Askari said that until 1947, nearly 30 percent of the total Sindhi population comprised of Hindus.

He said many people are today not aware that Karachi, Hyderabad and Shikarpur were majority Hindu areas at one point. “In the book, we have shown that Hindus played a major role in Sindhs arts and crafts. This appreciation is important because we want in our country whatever we have produced.”

The book by Askaris has been received well. The Guardian published a full-page article on the book and several other publications have reviewed it.