Caro Higgs – Country – Artist
Inspired by the some of the socio-political artist Afshan Shoaib’s work, born in Peshawar ( Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region) and studied in Karachi before moving to London.
Finding an artist from my chosen area of Pakistan was not easy, there were very few names but luckily Afshan’s belief’s struck a cord with me. Within the Kyber Pakhtunkhwa region, the Chitral area in particular, there are two religions, Sunni muslims and in the three main Kalash valleys there is a polytheist faith which is similar to an ancient form of Hinduism, their customs and traditions are contradictory to that of the Islamic or Pakistani culture. In Chitral, where I stayed, the women were never seen outside their homesteads and I dressed in shalwar kameez with the dupatta head covering in accordance to their dress code but in the Kalash valleys the dress was completely different. Women wear black clothing which is brightly embroidered and their heads are uncovered except for the traditional headwear which is coarsely embroidered, beaded and decorated with cowrie shells. Their culture is interlinked with their religion but sadly a large number of this declining population have converted to Islam due to financial struggles, marital obstacles and societal pressures. Education in the valleys is limited and, with increased national and international tourism into the area the locals get a view of a life a world away from their own very basic existence which can be a great enticement to some. On my first visit I met a lady who set up an association to conserve the valleys as they were, about which she was passionate, but which caused me a lot of uneasy feelings as to whether it is morally right to prevent people from improving their lives rather than living in a time warp in order to protect their ethnicity. The contrast between the three valleys and the rest of the area is breathtaking.
The idea was to use the same face to create two different ways of life. I used a photograph I had taken of a Kalashi woman and made half the face as in the photograph with the traditional stitching on her clothing and then the other side of the face represents the muslim dress outside of the valleys. The two faces of the Chitral area. The piece is completely hand stitched, the Kalash dress was embroidered in two pieces and then appliquéd, clothing tends to be very baggy and loose hence the bulk of fabric. I tried to create some volume in the dupatta to balance the piece. The focus was on the two types of dress so I have left the background uncluttered, the change of the stitch colour refers to to the two religions, green for muslim and black and white for ethnicity and purity (the latter is an important part of the Kalash lifestyle). The head-dress has beads and cowrie threads as is the tradition.