Mr. Niaz Ahmad resides in the heart of Rawalpindi, a city teeming with culture, vibrant colors, and lively surroundings. However, amidst the beauty and charm, there exist the gray areas that cast a shadow over his life. Mr. Ahmad has dedicated his life to the art of crafting clay pots, but he laments that pursuing a life as an artist does not provide his family with the daily bread and butter they need. In Pakistan, art and artists are often undervalued, making it challenging for individuals like Niaz Ahmad to make ends meet.
With the telltale signs of time etched on his face and silver hair, he sadly remarks, “Art and artists are not sufficiently appreciated in Pakistan. This is why many artists, including myself, are struggling to support our families, as the government offers us little in return.” He adds, “Even my well-to-do clients hesitate to pay the true worth of my art.” It wasn’t always like this, according to the clay pot maker. There was a time when art was highly esteemed, and artists contributed significantly to not just the culture and heritage of Pakistan but also to the economy. Today, artists sometimes go a whole day without earning a penny, leaving them with empty stomachs.
Pakistan’s Handicrafts Industry in Global Perspective
Pakistan, a nation celebrated for its rich cultural heritage, is found at the bottom of the list among developing countries in the handicrafts export sector, with an annual export value of just USD 255 million. This stark contrast to India’s USD 3,000 million export showcases the untapped potential of Pakistan’s handicrafts industry.
In Pakistan, a collective of dedicated artists, including painters and gem makers, persistently labor to champion the multifaceted culture of their nation, unwavering in their commitment to transcend the myriad challenges that life presents them with on a daily basis. Among these passionate individuals stands out the calligrapher, Hanif Khan, who fervently endeavors to fuse the beauty of Arabic art with the rich tapestry of Pakistan’s heritage, thereby birthing a unique and unprecedented artistic expression. Yet, despite the vivid array of colors adorning his canvas and the palpable life breathed into his paintbrush, the path ahead for this talented artist remains uncertain and bleak, casting a shadow over the exceptional reservoir of productivity that constantly emanates from his artistic mind.
Handicrafts Have Potential Benefit for Economic Growth
Cultural industries possess the power to reshape Pakistan’s economic landscape, with handicrafts leading the way. By addressing the challenges faced by artisans, implementing effective policies, and fostering international partnerships, Pakistan can not only bridge the existing gap but also pave the way for a brighter economic future. As economist Sharjeel Mir notes, “If any country strengthens its small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), its economy can experience exponential growth, and this is a global phenomenon.”
The wealth gap continues to widen, with the rich becoming richer and the poor sinking deeper into poverty. Industrialists focus on expanding their businesses, while small artists are left behind. Mir emphasizes, “Across the world, the biggest economies have bolstered their small businesses, which are flourishing in every nook and corner. Pakistan needs to recognize this.”
The issue starts at the very beginning and is deeply ingrained in the mindset of the common people. Children are discouraged from pursuing art subjects because it is perceived as lacking value by society. This is because the artist and their art are not adequately appreciated in Pakistan.
Externally, the negative perception of Pakistan hampers the progress of the country’s contemporary industries. International business partners often hesitate to acknowledge the Pakistani aspect of projects, fearing it may undermine clients’ confidence. This, in turn, hinders significant opportunities in global markets and limits the prices Pakistan can charge for its economy. Furthermore, some believe that conforming to stereotypical perceptions of Pakistan is the key to international success.
A Brighter Future for Pakistan’s Economy
Recent trends indicate an increased demand for contemporary art forms, and successful festivals have offered an international platform for positive exposure to Pakistan’s handicraftsindustries. Continued growth can be sustained through various means, such as promoting an awareness of the cultural importance of the handicrafts industries, developing contemporary approaches to sector management, fostering national and regional networks and forums, revisiting the relevance of school and higher education curricula, showcasing Pakistani art forms globally, establishing a brand based on ethical trading, targeting trading opportunities with Indian and Pakistani diasporas, addressing legal obligations, and raising regulatory issues at the policy level.
“Industrialists are found in thousands; however, artists are in millions in a country,” says the economist, so if a country wants to boost its economy, they have to back their artists, art, and culture.
The plight of artists like Niaz Ahmad and Hanif Khan highlights the undervaluing of art and artists in Pakistan. To unlock the full potential of the country’s handicrafts and cultural industries, it’s essential to change societal perceptions, implement supportive policies, and engage with the global community. With the right approach, Pakistan can revitalize its handicraft economy, providing opportunities for artists and contributing to a more prosperous future.