Interview with Hand Embroidery Artisan: Mohd Gulzar Ansaari

Traditional Hand Embroidery Artisan

TRADITIONAL HAND EMBROIDERY ARTISAN

Gulzar Ansari working at his home atelier in Delhi

Hand Embroidery.

 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. 

Gulzaar Anssari 

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.

TRADITIONAL HAND EMBROIDERY ARTISANHis 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.

Designer Collaborations

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.

TRADITIONAL HAND EMBROIDERY ARTISAN

TRADITIONAL HAND EMBROIDERY ARTISAN

TRADITIONAL HAND EMBROIDERY ARTISANTRADITIONAL HAND EMBROIDERY ARTISAN

Looking Forward

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.

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5 Comments
  • Tamara Rampley
    Posted at 17:11h, 25 April Reply

    Thank you, so much for sharing Gulwar’s story. As an artist, the beauty of Zardozi embriodery was one of the things that drew me to India, and now I have a fledgling fair trade business, I was planning to return to find Skilled Artisans just like him, so your post is very timely, thank you.so much
    I did speak to a Gentleman at the Craft Museum in Delhi, but never managed to find him in his home village near Varanasi, a year later, and the emails went unanswered, so I shall enjoy looking afresh now with your help. THANK YOU so much for profiling such amazing skill

    • Nidhi
      Posted at 19:56h, 26 April Reply

      Hi Tamara, Thank you for your comment. The first comment on our new blog 🙂
      Zardosi embroidery is a very special skill. We know a group of Zardosi artisans in different parts of India. Depending on the size of the project and the budget provided we select groups to work with.

      Please write to us [email protected] for any further information.

      Thanks

      • Tamara Rampley
        Posted at 13:43h, 27 April Reply

        Dear Nidhi
        Thank you for your kind reply, I certainly will be in touch with more information. Please give me a little time, as I am just one lady with an absolutely huge dream and I am still in the early days of sorting out finance, I found your Instagram post before I had really started my search for embroiders, so I have a little more work to do yet. But as both India and the UK are in lockdown I guess I have little time to sort out finance, but i have waited many years to be able to work with artisans of Zardozi embroidery and it is where my heart is, so you will here from me again soon. I promise. Much love across the miles. Stay well and safe
        Tamara

  • Tamara Rampley
    Posted at 16:54h, 20 April Reply

    I have read and enjoyed your new post on Zardozi Nihidi, It is so inspiring! I am still true to all I wrote earlier and will be back as soon as I can. I pray you and all your incredibly talented Artiisans stay well an safe! You are all – although I have not met you yet – in my heart!

    • Nidhi Garg
      Posted at 23:19h, 20 April Reply

      Thank you for your kind words Tamara 🙂 Please stay safe

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