The Flowering Desert: Textiles from Sindh (Paul Holberton, November 2019) is a forthcoming publication on the rich textile legacy of the Sindh region in Pakistan. Through vivid photographs and in-depth essays, the book explores the history, techniques, stitches and motifs of these craft traditions, which are among the oldest in South Asia.
The book is written by Nasreen Askari, founder-director of the Mohatta Palace Museum in Karachi – who has also co-authored Colours of the Indus and Tale of the Tile, two volumes on Pakistani textiles and ceramics respectively – and Hasan Askari, a former trustee of the British Museum in London. Parts of their famous textile collection have been exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), London and the National Museums of Scotland.
Nasreen Askari shared some insights on the collection and upcoming volume in a brief email interview with Saffronart.
What inspired you to start collecting textiles?
In 1970, because of a set of circumstances, I found myself in Jamshoro, which was then a distant suburb of Hyderabad, Sindh. Having lived all my life in a metropolitan environment, I was fascinated by the diversity of dress, dialect and demeanour of the people I came across – almost all simple country folk but who took pride in their distinctiveness. I tried to understand what made each group different from one another, most eloquently expressed in their dress traditions, and thus began a process of enquiry and understanding that persists to this day. I began to marvel at the excellence with which they produced objects with precision and without any formal instruction in space, colour and scale. This inevitably led to a desire to acquire objects of beauty, and that was the beginning of our collection.
Why did you choose to focus on textiles from only this one part of the country?
We don’t just collect textiles from Sindh; we collect textiles from all over Pakistan. However, our Sindhi collection is extensive and has some global recognition as parts of it have been exhibited internationally. My first exhibition and accompanying catalogue (at the V&A), Colours of the Indus, was about the textiles of all of Pakistan – and the first attempt, to my knowledge, to document the disparate textile traditions of the country.
I don’t make a distinction between the strict geographical defines of Sindh and neighbouring regions. As has been tellingly described by my co-author, it is difficult to make a distinction between Sindh, Kutch and parts of Gujarat. But Sindh is where I live and where I have done fieldwork; there is, therefore, a bias towards Sindh in our collection and we chose to focus this book on just one part of it.
What makes Sindhi textiles unique or different from those of surrounding regions?
Sindhi textiles do have unique features; I have described the multiplicity of stitches used in Sindhi embroidery in a chapter called “Ties that Bind” in the book. What is interesting about this book is that it is not a collection of beautiful objects. There are chapters that highlight the importance of Sindh in connecting India with and conveying India to the wider world. The contribution of Sindh to South Asia as a whole is not always understood. Similarly, we discuss the contribution of Hindus to the traditions of Sindh. This book has been a salutary experience as we have discovered fresh insights into both the traditions and the history of Sindh.
Cover image: Detail from Maleer or man’s wedding shawl, Lohana group commissioned to Meghwar embroiderers. Hand-woven, mordant-dyed and resist-printed cotton; Diplo, Tharparkar, early 20th century. Image courtesy of Mohatta Palace Museum, Karachi.