Sakhta: The Framework
Who are the Craftspeople?
Papier Mache craft making happens in two phases: one set of artists, the Sakhta who process the base material and prepare the frame work and structure; and the Naqashi artists who work on drawing the designs and polishing the craft. The Sakhtasazi and Naqashi artists work closely with each other but in separate workspaces.
Sakhta is a type of Papier Mache that involves moulding raw wastepaper pulp into objects.
Kashmiri papier mache is unique for a variety of reasons; the key being that the paper pulp is reduced to a refined paste similar to plaster which allows it to be maluable and fashioned into complex and interesting shapes and designs, it has an incredibly polished and smooth finish similar to that of lacquer and the opportunities are endless in terms of the designs that can be hand painted onto the pieces.
The whole process involves working with simple hand tools and locally sourced raw materials which are waste paper and local rice glue. It has a very labour intensive production process called Sakhta, that requires repetitive consecutive stages of hand beating the paper pulp on top of a mould and drying it slowly in the sun.
The result is a smooth surfaced, colourful artefact. Sadly, this ancient technique is at risk. With only about 40 artists still practising this craft.
Once the base is fit for use, the object goes to the Naqashi artists who take over. It is coated with a mixture of chalk powder and a type of adhesive, and polished with a kiln-burnt brick.
This process is called gassayiee. Once the piece acquires the desired texture, a layer of tissues is glued to it to make it water-resistant and prevent it from developing cracks. It receives several rounds of gassayiee with sandpaper followed by three or four thick coats of colour.
As the paint dries up, various designs are draw on the Papier Mache item followed by a layer of varnish to lock the hues. Finally, after a round of finishing with a stone called Mehra, the item is ready to be sold.