Pakistan & Canada, Handwork Studio, Ajrak Blockprinting
Handwork Studio is built on collaborative creative energy along with a deep respect for traditional cultures and knowledge. They collaborate with artisans and their unique traditional working practices, like hand block printing and natural dyeing, to develop textiles with a contemporary design aesthetic. Three years ago, Handwork Studio began a collaboration with Niaz Husain Soomro and his family, part of a community that has lived for generations in the small Sufi town of Bith Shah on the Indus river in Sind, Pakistan. Niaz Hussain’s family is one of the last remaining in this region that still produces Ajrak cloth using time honoured production methods, the secrets of which have been passed down through generations. Their textiles are developed and made collaboratively with this artisan community. Inspired by the extraordinary process of Ajrak making, they produce small batch collections of accessories, homewares and clothing. Using the age-old resist print technique, they create modern geometric prints dyed with natural indigo on locally produced cotton khaddar and cotton lawn fabrics. In creating these products, they strive to re-contextualize traditional artisan techniques for a contemporary audience.
Ajrak is a Sindhi traditional cloth that traces its origins to the ancient Indus civilisation, dating back more than 5000 years. Communities living along the banks of the Indus River in this area of Sindh have a deep connection with Ajrak textiles. Local people use Ajrak in a myriad of different ways during their life cycles, using it to mark transitions from birth to maturity and finally, death. This cloth is worn as a turban by men, used as a shawl by women and spread as a bed-sheet in homes. It is used and reused until threadbare. The continuity of Ajrak production and use over the centuries has been maintained only because it is an integral part of the Sindhi culture and there is such an integral link between culture, religion and commerce that boundaries overlap. There is also an important connection between Sufism and Ajrak, as the town of Bith Shah is also home to an important Sufi saint, Shah Abdul Latif Bhatia. This magical cloth has a huge cultural significance in the Sindhi Sufi culture.
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