Meet Mohammad Yousuf Kashmir’s Mute Artist with Golden Hands

Wood carving is an art form that involves the use of a cutting tool (in most cases a knife) or using a chisel in one hand and a mallet in another to make a wooden figure or figurine, or even a sculptural ornamentation from wood. Traditionally, finished products are individual sculptures conceived and composed from hand-worked moldings.
There are several methods and styles of word carving, but the most prominent are the chip and relief styles. The chip style of carving is a style of carving in which knives or chisels are used to remove small chips of the material from a flat surface in a single piece, while the relief style of wood carving involves carving pictures in wood. The process of relief carving involves removing wood from a flat wood panel in such a way that an object appears to rise out of the wood.
Relief carving begins with a design idea in mind and then put to paper in the form of a master pattern which is then transferred to the wood surface. Most relief carving is done with hand tools – chisels and gouges – which often require a mallet to drive them through the wood.
In Kashmir, wood carving is of four main types – raised, engraved, undercut and plain. Wood carving is an elaborate process and involves a high degree of skill and craftsmanship.
Brighter Kashmir met with Mohammad Yousuf and his interlocutor Mudasssir to get an idea about the state of woodcarving as an art in the Kashmir Valley. Mudassir spoke on behalf of Mohammad Yousuf, who is both hearing and speech impaired.
“Most of us wood carving artists have been home bound while doing our work. We are not getting enough support or encouragement to pursue this skill. In Kashmir, there are so many reasons behind this neglect of artists like us. There is a need for the government to step forward more actively to do something to ensure our survival and the survival of these traditional crafts, ”said Mudassir.
Communicating through Mudassir, Mohammad Yousuf said: “I have been doing this work since I was a small child of three or four, because in those days, factories used to operate from homes. It is still like this in many parts of Kashmir. I have been doing this work since 1970, about 40 to 50 years. I learned this craft from my father, Ghulam Mohammad Saheb. He was a legendary artist. I learned from other skilled artists as well. It has in fact been a learning on the job. I consider this to be a god gifted skill and to teach others who are not aware or well versed in it, is a very difficult job. ”
Yousuf further told BK, “As far as passing on my skills is concerned, I picture the drawing I am about to do in my mind and work from there. I communicate this skill with others in my group. We know how to communicate with each other. ”
Mudassir told BK, “Our company’s name is Paradise Wood House. We have been involved in this wood craft for the last 200 years. Mohammad Yousuf is the only craftsman across the length and breadth of Kashmir who has acquired a mastery over this kind of work. He was born deaf and dumb. He is the one of the few if not the only surviving woodcraft artist surviving in Kashmir who does his job with accuracy and perfection. If I start talking about all the work he has done, it will take more than a year to explain. He has made such wonderful pieces of wood-based art that have gained global recognition. He has made an image of Saddam Hussein. Then there was something he and we did for former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. That was memento that was a part of a roadmap from Srinagar to Pakistan. It was much appreciated. Through that wood crafted memento, we sent out a message that “peace is above all”. After that we made the famous Jamia Masjid. ”
“We have been doing this current piece of a woman on horse-back for the last three years. This is being made from a single piece of wood. We make both furniture and figurines, besides sculptures and artefacts. It is more like a super luxury craft if you talk about walnut wood carving. Most of our products are sold domestically. We are in the process of tapping potential customers in other countries and God-willing, we shall be successful in that. Our business is doing well, and we are getting much appreciated for our work because there are so many art lover still who admire this kind of wood work. In India, for instance, our clientele is high-end, limited no doubt, but high-end. Our main clientele is the cream of society and mainly located in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, other parts of south India, etc. ”
When asked whether any of the works had been offered to the government, Mudassir said: “See, the government makes a lot of prom ises, but at the ground level, nothing really. There are photograph sessions, social media. interactions and placements. That is certainly not enough. They (the government) are not serious enough, ”Mudassir said, adding,“ We ​​have given so many ideas, especially for their Smart City project, but how does that translate for us? We have the skill and the talent, but the government does nothing. ”
While summing up, Mudassir laments that while there is talk of a new Kashmir and all that, it is not at all reflected in preserving the traditional art forms of Kashmir. He says carpet weaving and walnut wood carving are dying arts that urgently need a fresh lease of life if they are to survive. He fails to understand why the government cannot be more proactive in this regard. There is a need to involve artists and the labor class in key projects, he says. Only then, can we hope for a new Kashmir. There are so many areas of art and craft where the government can step in to give a much-needed boost. Once it decides to do so, the problem of unemployment can be resolved, tourism can get a boost.

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