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.
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.”