Pakistan’s IKIGAI collective is a conglomerate of fantastically creative rural women, who work together to shine a spotlight on the skillful, exquisitely unusual artforms produced in areas once unknown to the global folk art community. Many of IKIGAI’s female members belong to conservative communities, where economic opportunities—and even mobility—are often limited; art-making, then, is a vital and welcome means not only of income but also of self-expression.
IKIGAI’s well-trained artisans specialize in taarkashi embroidery, which has roots in ancient Pakistani tribal culture. This highly specialized style is said to have originated in South Punjab, Pakistan. Executed across a range of evenweave fabrics, including cotton, linen, and even velvet, this elegant technique is based on removing threads from warp or weft. The remaining threads are then grouped and embroidered together into a variety of intricate patterns. IKIGAI’s artisans produce intricately detailed and made-to-last textiles, with offerings including cushions, table coverings, and even bedspreads; each item is crafted with painstaking precision and meticulous needlework. These artists are also masters in the art of tailoring, and create whisper-soft and deliciously lightweight tunics and scarves.
Despite socio-economic challenges, thanks to groups like IKIGAI, there is empowerment and hope for Pakistan’s artist collectives. IKIGAI’s members not only sustain their creative impulses, but also powerfully contribute to the emotional and financial stability of their families and, in effect, their intimate and extended communities.