15 Apr Interview with Hand Embroidery Artisan: Mohd Gulzar Ansaari
The opportunity to work with high skilled artisans has always made us appreciate the very elusive – soulful details of the journey of a design from an artwork to a ready material. The artisans are skilled in their crafts and rightly so, they are also opinionated about design. Together we share viewpoints, laughter and sometimes disagreements, all while trying to achieve the desired outcome.
We work with artisans out of their own creative spaces – thus with time, their workplace literally becomes our place of work too and soon every detail about them and their workplace become an everlasting memory. The way they still use their stained but gorgeous old tea pots and always sit and work by the window sill that is half covered with an old embroidered mesh. The way we make small conversations about our families, about our past, our hopes, and our future. These relationships are the foundation of Marasim. Our collected glints of pure gold. In these unprecedented times, we are opening up our box of stories with a hope that they will inspire some hopes and smiles.
Meet Mohd. Gulzar Ansaari, 40 years old, an unsung hero of fashion.
Gulzar is based in Delhi. Having been born and brought up in Delhi, he is a true ‘Delhiite’. He lives there with his siblings, wife and kids. They are a huge family and a very talented one too. Gulzar, along with his family members, have been practicing Aari and Zardozi embroideries at their home atelier for nearly 22 years. He vividly remembers his grandfather used to practice these embroideries and fondly shares the memories of his mother spending hours on the hand embroidery frame. In his own words, “All of us brothers and sisters, grew up playing around these frames and embroideries.”
These embroideries are in their blood.
His first ‘commercial’ hand embroidery work was at the age of 18. He embroidered a purse for under $1. He did not make much money for his hard work. However, the hand embroidery on the purse caught the attention of a visiting designer from England. What ensued for Gulzar and his family was a series of stellar opportunities.
They got an opportunity to embroider a 100 year old flag for Hatfield House in England. After almost 45-50 days of working day and night, they did a great job at recreating the flag and earned around $3200 (almost 17 years ago) for their work. Additionally, the same British designer offered them regular hand embroidery work for 4 years. As self independent hand workers, this phase was like a dream for Gulzar’s family.
After this phase passed, the opportunities became scarce and the ability to work independently was challenging. The connoisseurs of genuine craftsmanship were rare. The hourly wages offered were meager. Moreover, the fellow embroiderers were switching to masonry jobs to be able to put bread on their tables.
Gulzar and family also tried to design and create their own collection of embroidered bags and handcrafted accessories. They would work and stock up during the off season and try to sell them during the wedding or festival season. But soon Gulzar realized that sales was not the family’s forte therefore he returned to doing hand embroidery work for other designers.
The one piece of advice that he wants to give designers is that they should spend time to understand the technique. In his own words, “There is a difference between sketching with the pen and embroidering with the needle. If the designers really want to create masterpieces and bring the best of their collaboration then the designers have to make an effort to treat hand embroidery like a software technology and spend time to understand its language really well.”
At 40, he feels optimistic about the future of his work, as he sees a revival for hand work. The young generation now value his talent and lineage. He is contacted by museums, designers, students and entrepreneurs to share his knowledge. Gulzar takes pride in his embroidery work and attention to details. He works for 10-12 hours every day, assisted by his siblings and extended family, who are also accomplished embroiderers in their own right.
It is his hope each day to come across opportunities which are challenging as well as rewarding. As a wage earner throughout his life he depends on transient opportunities, he now hopes to have a steady source of income. Although, he is nervous about the current situation, as all of their ongoing work has stopped, he remains hopeful that work will return. Like Gulzar we all are unaware of the future. For now, we must keep our hopes and hearts open.
Hope you enjoyed getting a little glimpse of Gulzar Ansaari’s life. He is our go to person in Delhi for any Aari hand embroidery work.
We will appreciate your views in the comments.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nidhi Garg Allen is an alumnus of Parsons School of Design and Adjunct Professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She is a technologist turned artisan entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Marasim. Marasim based in NYC is committed to preserving artisanal textiles that make use of regional techniques without uprooting craftspeople from their native communities