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Swan Song of the Badlas

 
 

Mukaish badla is a form of embroidery that once flourished in the Indian city of Lucknow. At its peak, in the 18th century, the art form traveled to different parts of the world, but it is now restricted to a few narrow lanes of the old city of Lucknow.

The art was basically introduced by the Nawabs, who ruled the city, to beautify another form of embroidery called chikankari, which still persists in the Indian subcontinent. Mukaish, however, ended up becoming an independent style and flourished across the city in the past. This form of embroidery was first developed for the ruling class that resided in the city as part of their finery since mukaish work initially used precious metals like gold and silver to make metallic wires.

The artisans who perform this art were at the time referred to as badlas. They perform this craft by inserting metallic wires of gold and silver into the fabric, eventually twisting it to create magnificent metallic embroidery.

These photographs tell the story of these artisans — their downfall, struggle, and survival.

The artisans, who devote their lives to the art form, make a bare minimum of $2-3 per day, their reward for concentrating and working in extremely harsh conditions for 10 hours every day.

The city once had more than 3,000 badlas, but now they number just 20-25, all of them over 65 years old.

Badlas complain about the practiced apathy of the government, which leads to further exploitation by their masters, who own the means of production and their lives, says 75-year-old Sabir Hussain, who has been working as a badla for nearly 65  years. The warehouses they work in are dingy, suffocating, tiny rooms.

The badlas and their art might soon die a painful death amidst the frenzy driven by development and modernization. The badlas’ population is dwindling and soon — in no more than 20-25 years — they will become a part of history.

The project was initiated under the aegis of the Neel Dongre Grant/Award for Excellence in Photography 2016-17 organized by the India Photo Archive Foundation.

Taha Ahmad is a documentary photographer based in Delhi. He was born in Lucknow and is currently pursuing his Masters in Fine Arts from Jamia Milllia Islamia University, India.

Swan Song of the Badlas
Eight-year-old Ruqsana, granddaughter of an Indian badla artisan, shows an intricate mukaish embroidery she crafted at her family workshop situated in Deorhi Agha Meer, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (December 23, 2016)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
The last remaining Indian badla artisans can be seen working in their warehouse in Hussainabad, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (June 29, 2016)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
An Indian badla artisan showing the superannuated handmade paper designs that earlier were used for reference in mukaish work, at the defunct Chowdhary Garaiyya warehouse in Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India.( July 2, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Taqi, an 80-year-old badla artisan, works in extremely harsh conditions under the Sa-datganj warehouse, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (June 24, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
A badla artisan resting in the daytime after working continuously for hours at the Sa-datganj warehouse, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (July 24, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
A woman observes two old badla artisans at work in their Hussainabad warehouse, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (September 16, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Zeenat, a lady from a traditional family of Lucknow, inspects a mukaish dress made out of real gold and silver wires, recalling the golden memories of the past. Deorhi Agha Meer, Chandi Khana, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, (December 31, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Raeesa, wife of a badla artisan, age 40, is seen working in her house, while her daughter Farheen, age 15, looks through a net of fabric at Deorhi Agha Meer, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (January 29, 2017.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Two Indian woman observe Bobby, owner of the Sa-datganj warehouse, as he inspects the quality of a mukaish fabric at Sa-datganj, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (September 17, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Ruqsana, 8, peeps from behind a mukaish fabric hanging in the yard of her family house as her sister Farheen, 15, inspects a mark on a dress caused by ink powder during the process of printing. Deorhi Agha Meer, Chandi Khana, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, (December 15, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Zeenat wears a real mukaish dress made out of gold and silver wires, crafted at the time of Nawabs in the 18th century at Deorhi Agha Meer, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. She sits across from a variety of mukaish apparel, looking out of the window of her old room. (December 27, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Zeenat unfolds her mukaish apparel, kept as an archive and a memory depicting the rich aura of the royal craft. Deorhi Agha Meer, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (December 27, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Farheen, 15, wears a real silver casted mukaish 'dupatta' (a long scarf that is essential to many South Asian women's outfits) made by her father, a 65-year-old badla at Deorhi Agha Meer, Chandi Khana, Old Lucknow, India. (January 1, 2017.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Children and grandchildren of the badla artisans straighten the mukaish fabric after the process of washing at Deorhi Agha Meer, Chandi Khana, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (December 30, 2016.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
Swan Song of the Badlas
Ruqsana, 8, peeps through a broken window of her house in Deorhi Agha Meer, Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. (January 29, 2017.)
Image Credit: Taha Ahmad
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