Afsheen Junejo of Blocked studied at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture where her fascination with block printing began. It was then that she was convinced that this particular age-old technique is what she would pursue and since then there has been no looking back.
The textile designer shares her design philosophy, creative process, what she loves most about her work, her disdain for the modern digital printing technique, and so much more with OK! Pakistan…
Afsheen Junejo shares her passion for block printing. She walks us through how she got started with block printing, what fascinates her about block printing and more.
Why did you choose to specialise in block printing? What drew you to this traditional process?
Afsheen Junejo: Block printing is an almost 2000 years old technique. Its roots are deeply embedded in our culture. While studying at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, we studied in depth about the rich history of textiles of the subcontinent. This course was an eye opener for me and when I graduated I decided to pursue this particular technique, which had such remarkable examples. Also, I felt there was a need to make this craft more relevant for the new generations.
What about it fascinates you the most?
Afsheen Junejo: The earliest samples of block printed textiles can be dated back to the 9th century. Then the Ajrak itself, which is a classic and very symbolic textile to our region is block printed. I’d say that its history fascinated me the most.
Describe your design philosophy.
Afsheen Junejo: My design philosophy is simple with a contemporary twist.
What is your favourite block print design?
Afsheen Junejo: My favourite pieces are the block printed shamianas (tents) of the Mughal era. I had the privilege of seeing these firsthand at the V & A Museum. From my own work the ‘Teacups’ are still my favourite.
What is it about the medium that suits your ideas?
Afsheen Junejo: What is unique about this is that one has the ability to use one single block in several ways. Each block has endless design possibilities. This makes the design process very exciting.
What considerations do you keep in mind when designing for this market?
AJ: My objective has always been to create designs, which would appeal to a wider audience and keeping the craft relevant for a younger more modern demographic. I try to make sure that there is something for everyone in our collections.
What are your go-to sources for design inspiration?
AJ: My go-to sources are primarily my surroundings.
What does the design process typically look like for you?
AJ: The design process thankfully remains quite simple. I see something that I like and photograph it. I work around the image and a drawing for the block is made, keeping the block limitations in mind. Once the block is carved by the craftsperson, who are truly so skilled in their work, I begin experimenting with colours, layouts, and mixing others patterns with that particular new block. This is the most exciting part of the process for me as the possibilities are endless! Once I narrow down a design, the printer takes over to create the pieces.
Does block printing limit your design ideas for practical reasons?
AJ: I feel that block printing as a medium in fact provides a lot of freedom in the designing process. The possibilities of using that one single wooden block are endless. Something as simple as a block with lines on it has several design options.
What’s a typical day or week for you?
AJ: I work in the mornings, as I feel my brain works best then. Therefore all the creative work is sorted in the early hours of the morning, way before the printers arrive. I enjoy the peace and quiet that this time provides. The evenings are dedicated to the stitching unit where I work with the tailor.
What does the creative process look like?
AJ: The creative process has to do with a lot of experimentation with the block itself. The layouts or compositions for the garment have to be sorted on paper. Again, there are countless ways to do this. Colours come next. It is only after many options are exhausted that the end result comes into play. The piece is then printed by the craftsperson and into stitching finally.
What do you love most about your work?
AJ: I love the fact that I can do so much with that one block. I love the moment when my new blocks arrive so I can start working with the immense possibilities. Most of all I feel that it is my duty as a textile designer to be able to give back to the craft and the craftsperson, and to be able to play my small role in being able to help sustain the livelihoods of these people who are the true masters of this craft.
The new digital printing technique is trending. Is that something you would ever consider trying for your designs?
AJ: The entire philosophy of blocked textiles was to help sustain this craft of block printing and the craftsperson in any small way possible. So many of our crafts have become obsolete and so many others are on their way to absolute extinction. I strongly feel that it is our duty to try and give back to our crafts community, and to find new ways to keep the craft relevant in today’s market. It is only then that the craftsperson will be able to earn a livelihood and pass on his or her skill to the next generation .The handcrafted will always remain superior. The imperfections that a handcrafted piece will carry are priceless in my eyes. Each piece tells a story… So no, I would not go anywhere near the mechanical methods of printing.
The one thing you can’t live without?
AJ: Ice cream.
What’s on your bucket list?
AJ: To travel more and more.
Favourite quote or personal mantra you live by?
AJ: Live and let live.
Nutella or peanut butter?
Last book you read?
AJ: The Red Sari (a biography of Sonia Gandhi) by Javier Moro.
AJ: Patrick Dempsey.
Your favourite TV series?
AJ: I have many favourites but Friends remains a constant.
Last extravagant buy?
AJ: Not my style – I don’t do extravagant.
AJ: Always London.
Tea or coffee?
Morning person or nocturnal?
Describe yourself in three words,
AJ: Straightforward, super punctual, and practical.
INTERVIEW: Mehr Kassim
PHOTOGRAPHS: COURTSEY AFSHEEN JUNEJO