In search of colour

Trav­el­ling is a sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. In­spire your next trip by us­ing your sight to seek out new shades, says rain­bow hunter Mom­taz Begum- Hos­sain.

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I pull the hair scrunchie around my wrist and ad­mire the tiny pops of colour within the weave of bright threads. I’m in Cam­den, London where the week­end mar­kets are filled with vi­brant global tex­tiles and eth­nic in­fused stores, stock­ing em­broi­dered wall hang­ings from In­dia, wooden sculp­tures from Africa and fash­ion ac­ces­sories from Gu­atemala. I’m 13 years old and this is the first time I’ve seen in­ter­na­tional crafts. I al­ready know I’m not happy just shop­ping, I want to see how and where th­ese things were made. Fast for­ward to to­day, and I’m now em­bark­ing on a mis­sion to travel the world in search of global arts and crafts; all of which have one thing in com­mon – colour.

Travel opens up a whole new pal­ette of hues to those we see in ev­ery­day life. From the nat­u­ral pig­ments of turquoise seas, the bold­ness of trop­i­cal plants, brightly painted build­ings, to cre­ative street art and tra­di­tional cos­tumes; the world is a colour­ful place, as I’ve dis­cov­ered on my ad­ven­tures, doc­u­mented in my travel di­aries.

When it comes to colour­ful des­ti­na­tions, In­dia is a bench­mark in how to hue. The lan­guage, cul­ture and land­scape al­ters through­out ev­ery state, but colour tran­scends them all. I’m in Jaipur, the pink city. I visit forts, mon­u­ments and palaces all of which are pink on the ex­te­rior but in­side are dec­o­rated with as­ton­ish­ing in­te­rior de­tails like painted mu­rals, soft fur­nish­ings and tiles. It’s a pas­tel par­adise. Bolder tones though can be ob­served in the local tex­tile tech­niques. A visit to the Anokhi Mu­seum of Hand Print­ing, near Am­ber Fort pro­vides an in­tro­duc­tion to the beauty of block print­ing. I watch a block be­ing carved from wood and later have a go at print­ing my own de­sign.

The chance to see crafts made by ar­ti­sans is what drew me to In­dia and on an­other trip I head to Kolkata to the an­nual West Ben­gal Crafts Fair where thou­sands of maker/ de­sign­ers from all over the re­gion de­scend to sell their wares. There are end­less stalls and work­shops and I dis­cover tech­niques I never knew ex­isted, like paddy crafts where in­di­vid­ual grains of rice are dyed to make jew­ellery, tra­di­tional ter­ra­cotta horses and gold tin­sel edged masks. Back on the busy roads I ad­mire the bold graphic fonts of the truck art where hand-painted words, mo­tifs and pic­tures turn or­di­nary ve­hi­cles into ex­tra­or­di­nary pieces of art.

A des­ti­na­tion known for its seren­ity, well­be­ing and nat­u­ral beauty, the first thing that catches my eye in Bali is the abun­dance of frangi­pani f low­ers. Pas­tel pink streaked white blooms with lu­mi­nous yel­low cen­tres dec­o­rate win­dowsills, table­tops and streets, as f lower heads fall from the trees above.

The is­land is beau­ti­ful from ev­ery an­gle but it’s the floors where the trea­sures are to be found and not just in the fallen petals, but in the ‘canag sari’, re­li­gious of­fer­ings made to god, by Ba­li­nese Hin­dus. They ap­pear ev­ery­where from road­sides to tem­ple steps and con­sist of hand­wo­ven palm leaf bas­kets filled with trop­i­cal f low­ers.

I ask one of the street sellers to show me how it’s done. I peel away at the stems of

palm leaves, ad­mir­ing their stur­di­ness and the spec­trum of green veins that ap­pear. Be­side the huge strips of fo­liage, soon to be wo­ven into bas­kets, are bowls of fresh flow­ers, all of which glim­mer un­der the sunny skies. Bold fuch­sia pink petals lay be­side deep pur­ple and orange tones, which are gath­ered with speed and dropped into the bas­kets be­fore they are rapidly snapped up by shop­pers.

Flow­ers and na­ture fol­low me through­out the trip. I visit tem­ples or­nately dec­o­rated with painted stat­ues, while away hours look­ing out at ver­dant green paddy fields, ob­serve tra­di­tional In­done­sian ikat weavers whose work is iden­ti­fied through iconic pat­terns and snorkel through warm waters where I’m in awe of the shim­mer­ing scales of trop­i­cal fish. My fi­nal hours are spent re­lax­ing in a bath­tub filled with fra­grant petals, fol­lowed by a pedi­cure where flo­ral nail art is ap­plied to toes so I can take a lit­tle bit of Bali home with me.

My main rea­son for vis­it­ing Gu­atemala is to wit­ness one of the craft won­ders of the world: Chichi­cas­te­nanga: the largest craft mar­ket in Cen­tral Amer­ica and the kalei­do­scopic won­der­land that greets me is even bet­ter than I had imag­ined. For what feels like miles, mar­ket stalls spread out across the town, show­cas­ing all man­ner of fin­ery. There’a brightly hued Mayan cloth­ing, em­broi­dered with f lu­o­res­cent threads, purses, throws, hang­ings, stitched pic­tures, beaded ob­jects, masks, fab­rics and or­na­ments: I’m in a craft-lover’s par­adise. Much to my de­light I find an area of the mar­ket sell­ing noth­ing but wo­ven scrunchies: just like the one that had cap­tured my imag­i­na­tion as a teenager.

This part of Gu­atemala is rich in Mayan cul­ture and all around women are wear­ing colour­ful tra­di­tional dress. To them it is the norm, but I can’t be­lieve how ‘well- dressed’ they look just to head to the mar­ket to do some shop­ping. I’m in­spired.

At the edge of the mar­ket I stum­ble on a Gu­atemalan grave­yard. Em­body­ing the cre­ative soul of the cul­ture, grave­yards are not solemn, soli­tary places here, but con­sist of colour­ful tombs, cre­at­ing a rain­bow on the land­scape. I saw th­ese won­der­ful sights; groups of colour­ful head­stones and tombs trav­el­ling on the local buses. I didn’t know what they were but now I was in within reach of one, I had to ex­plore fur­ther.

I’ve never seen this jux­ta­po­si­tion of the solemn­ness of death against the all en­com­pass­ing beauty of such a colour­ful space. It’s a re­minder of how the re­la­tion­ship peo­ple have with colour varies be­tween cul­tures. A fu­neral ser­vice is tak­ing place in the cen­tre of the grave­yard and I note that no one is wear­ing black. The joy of colour is at the cen­tre of the cer­e­mony and it fees like a poignant way to cel­e­brate hu­man life.

“For what feels like miles, mar­ket stalls spread out across the town. There’s brightly hued Mayan cloth­ing, em­broi­dered with flu­o­res­cent threads, purses, throws, hang­ings, stitched pic­tures, beaded ob­jects, masks, fab­rics and or­na­ments.”

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