Pakistan’s ivory artisans have inherited an ancient tradition of carving. However in current times the artisans are working in horn and bone as a substitute raw material.
In the past in its simplest form ivory was used for inlaying wood and making bangles, chessboards, plain jewellery and snuff-boxes, combs, card-cases, paper-cutters, surma salais, and handles for bags and walking sticks. A higher level of workmanship involves the etching and engraving of sculptural, floral or geometric motifs on the surface of these objects. A favourite theme was the carving of a cavalcade of tigers, elephants, or horses from a single ivory piece. The carving could be of animals of a uniform size but often the size was successively reduced till at the end of the row there was only a tiny figure demonstrating the skill of the artisan. Many artisans specialised in carving animals in postures of combat or the classical clash between the snake and the mongoose. The aesthetic floral tracery and lace-like perforation work done on all kinds of objects was the epitome of skill – jewellery, caskets, decoration pieces, intricately carved lamp stands where the entire surface of the hollow cylinder was carved around with a free blending of motifs from the floral, the arabesque and the calligraphic to the sculptural.
BONE AND HORN
Bone and horn today have taken the place of ivory as a vastly cheaper and easily accessible material. In the last few years bone inlay work on wood has become extremely popular in Pakistan. Bone jewellery is also produced in large quantities and present-day artisans are creating almost all the designs that made ivory work the delight of the royalty. But horn should be considered as something more than a substitute for ivory. Because of its natural shape and tonal variations it can stand on its own. The same characteristics have guaranteed the continued use of horn for making combs, hairpins, buttons, handles for umbrellas, knives, bags, ash-trays, pen-stands, candle sticks, lamp-stands, toys etc. The more sophisticated horn artisans enhance the beauty of their products not only by engraving and carving but also by inlaying them with metal thread.