Artists in Kashmir – delicious chocolate truffles in beautiful gift boxes.
More than ten years ago here at Booja-Booja in Norfolk we started working with a company called Persian Dowery, based in Kashmir, India.
Persian Dowery is a business that started out selling artefacts to tourists on behalf of many skilled artisans in Kashmir. Persian Dowery has always commissioned artisans to make beautiful papier mache pieces, shawls and carpets; all of which are adorned with intricate designs and patterns that have been passed down for many generations in Kashmir.
Kashmir is one of the few places in the world where hand made work still dominates over industrial mass-production. However, the division of Kashmir between Pakistan and India has caused decades of unrest in the region, leading to a permanent decline in international tourism. The lack of tourists has led to a downturn in the value of the artistic industry, and more and more young people have turned to menial forms of labour that provide a steady and reliable income.
We have worked with Persian Dowery to concentrate on one area of art; their beautiful handmade and hand painted boxes. Persian Dowery started with a team of 30 artists and this has gradually grown to a point where they now hire 150 different contractors to produce the boxes, paint them, line them with velvet and then carefully check and pack them; all with no machinery.
We have also worked with Persian Dowery on the materials used to make the boxes, using special ingredients that have been tried and tested over time. Some of the materials have been imported from all over the world in order to maintain a high level of quality and non-synthetic finishes in order to maintain the freshness of our delicious truffles inside the boxes. These special materials include a completely eco-friendly zero VOC (volatile organic compound) black paint for use inside the boxes. On the outside, a bio-lacquer is used to cover the acrylic, water based paints. The lacquer is non-toxic and made from non-flammable, natural oils and resins, which finishes off and seals the boxes inside and out beautifully.
Persian Dowery strives to make its business a completely sustainable, eco-friendly/low carbon footprint, community based cooperative model. Consideration of low-energy consumption goes into every detail of the operation, right down to maximising people’s ability to work from home. This is important during the freezing Himalayan winters, when families need to support themselves but have difficulty travelling to and from work in the heavy snow and cold weather conditions. During the frequent periods of civil unrest in the Kashmir region, Persian Dowery employees are also able to continue to work from home during crippling curfews when access to essential needs becomes difficult.
Persian Dowery works creatively to ensure that it can continue to supply people and support as many families as possible, even during these difficult periods when the vast majority cannot even go to work or maintain an income at all. This sustainable model means that people are able to work from home and stay with their families, and support each other in a more cooperative, community based way. Persian Dowery becomes part of the lives of the families of the people it employs, and assumes responsibility for caring for their essential needs in addition to giving them work.
Since we have been working with Persian Dowery, we have together breathed life into the declining ancient industry of papier mache that has been passed down through generations of skilled artisans. When we began working together the younger generation in Kashmir was looking to other forms of work, but now that Persian Dowery employs and empowers the older generation of skilled artists to make a healthy living from their art, younger generations are being inspired to do apprenticeships under the guidance of these older more skilled artists. Because artists are paid on a basis of how much they produce, they are able to work their own hours and ability of output. Therefore Persian Dowery’s payment basis is very fair to all levels of skill and age as apprentices can be brought in on the same pay level as anyone else, which inspires them to evolve their skill level to be able to earn more money. It is in this way, that we are enabling the art to flourish again.
Persian Dowery grows every year and is able to reach more people who are struggling in poverty, and as it becomes widely known and awarded in its region for its success and ethics, many more people approach it, wishing to work for Persian Dowery. Continuing to work with Persian Dowery is a top priority for us, which is why we continue to sell our beautiful Kashmiri Easter Eggs and The Artist’s Collection range of chocolate gift boxes made by these talented artisans.