The Disappearing Art Of Hand Embroidery In Lucknow

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When former US president Barack Obama visited India in 2015, Prime Minster Modi presented him with different gifts that include a hand-carved wooden Jali box with a tiny wooden latch, a framed photo of Maria Anderson’s interview in India and a hand-embroidered Shahmina shawl for the First Lady.

There was a time when hand embroidery thrived in Lucknow. Mukaish Badla embroidery can be found in the finery popular among the rich and affluent. The unique art of weaving gold and silver threads to create unique designs was popularized by the Nawabs during the 18th and 19th centuries. Intricate hand embroidery requires hours or practice and intense focus.

However, this style of embroidery is about to be forgotten with the exception of the small community of artisans that are mostly in their late 60’s. The artisans still work but often, they only earn less than $3 a day in rough conditions and long working hours.

Taha Ahmad who was born in the city decided to document the dying art and how people are trying to keep it alive. He created a series from the photographs shared by the elderly embroiderers to show their downfall, struggles and survival. The artisans told stories about government apathy towards their plight and the exploitation received from their masters.

Because the artisans have devoted all their life to their craft, they do not have other options to fall back on. They have to continue working in small and dingy rooms. Their population is dwindling and in the next 20 to 25 years, they will be considered as history.

Many embroiderers prefer polyester embroidery thread that has the essential properties of softness, fullness, high increase in volume and elasticity. Polyester thread has been mechanically textured to make it more fuzzy and stretchy. Because of the high quality of the thread, no special handling is required.