A Perforated Canvas

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Artist Masood Hussain’s depiction of current crisis in Kashmir is both painful and thoughtful expression.  Saima Bhat reports

Artist Masood Hussain's Art collage.

Artist Masood Hussain’s Art collage.

The sight of overcrowded Ward 8 of SMHS hospital Srinagar, where mostly pellet hit kids were treated, deeply moved artist Masood Hussain. “I used digital art medium to register my protest and portray the impact of pellets on children,” said Hussain. “I could not bear the sight of kids blinded by the pellets.”

It affected Hussain both as a human being and an artist, and made him experiment with the images and share them on social-media sites.

Later, these images became part of an ongoing project dedicated to current unrest in Kashmir that has left 76 protestors dead, and over 10,000 injured.  “These images are self-explanatory and symbolic showing different expressions of conflict kids,” said Hussain. “These kids have grown up around conflict, they never experienced peaceful times.”

The most striking artwork include, a kid holding a schoolbag that has stones spilling over; a girl holding two dolls in her hand, a guda and a gudi, both bereft of eyes; two boys blinded by pellets walking together, aided by a walking stick, its long shadow cast ahead of them, creating dark trail. “These are silent black-and-white images,” said Hussain.

Masood Hussain's portrait.

Masood Hussain’s portrait.

Hussain, who draws his inspiration from situation around him, has depicted almost every aspect of Kashmir’s troubled history since 1947.

Till 90s, Hussain’s artworks usually focused on Kashmir’s beauty, culture and social life. After militancy broke in 1989, Hussain shifted his focus on turmoil.

“It took me some time to execute my work. Finally in 2004, I exhibited my work in Delhi,” said Hussain.

Once situation started to improve slightly Hussain shifted his focus back to tourism, beauty and the life.

Then came mass uprisings of 2008, 2009, and 2010, and Hussain once again began using conflict as backdrop for his artwork. “Same is the case with current situation,” said Hussain.

Masood Hussain.

Masood Hussain.

Hussain, a graduate from J J School of Arts, Bombay, started his career as teacher at Fine Arts College, Rajbagh in 1977. He started graphic designing department in the college.

Around same time he established block making unit in letterpress printing, where he used to design logos, photographs to be published in magazines.

“I was feeding whole valley till militancy erupted in 1989. Even militants used to approach me for designing their party’s logo,” recalls Hussain.

But after militancy started, Hussain was forced to shut down his Hazuri Bagh based factory after most of his non-Kashmiri workers fled. “This place served as my office as well,” said Hussain.

The office that also served as his studio was completely destroyed by fire in 1993. “I lost around fifty paintings. And none of them had any backup,” said Hussain.

But without losing heart, Hussain began working on new ideas, mostly abstract and indirect.

Hussain’s work included major events, like presenting of memorandum to UN, migration of Pandits, Kunan mass rape, pre-dawn crackdowns, identification parades, firing on funeral procession of Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq etc. “I remember how officials had kept a sack inside UN office gate so that people can leave their envelopes there,” said Hussain.

In 2009, Hussain came up with a series of paintings titled ‘Transparent Strokes’ in watercolors depicting places, people and activities in and around Srinagar. The work was inspired by realistic touches, alive with filigree details serving two purposes: to portray local architecture, life and to connect people. Hussain then uploaded his work on social media platform Facebook, which gave both Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus living abroad, a medium to reconnect with their roots.

“I received lot of response, especially from Kashmiri Pandits. They remembered their roots, recognised places linked to their childhood, their localities, their homes, their neighbours. Somewhere along the way they discovered long-lost friends and also made new ones,” said Hussain.

In 2013 New York Times did a story on Hussain’s efforts to reconnect Kashmiris living abroad with their roots.

Hussain prefers to explore new mediums and then experiment with them. “I don’t restrict to canvas only. I have worked on texture, paper pulp, wood, stones, metal etc., whatever is available in the local market,” said Hussain.

The grand sculpture inside Badam Waer, was done by Hussain.

Artist Masood's Hussain's pellet injury portrayal.

Artist Masood’s Hussain’s pellet injury portrayal.

In 1997 Hussain was approached by Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali, the famous writer of ‘The Country Without A Post Office’ for design of his poetry collection.

Two years later when Agha Shahid Ali saw Hussain’s work, he gave him seven couplets based on seasons and beauty of Kashmir. “He asked me to draw seven different paintings based on them. I kept those couplets in my green colour file for 13 years as they were not relevant those days,” recalls Hussain.

It was in 2013 that Hussain began working on those couplets. “I completed them just a week before September 2014 floods,” said Hussain.

A resident of Jawahar Nagar in Srinagar, one of the worst hit areas, Hussain could only save those seven painting, after his house submerged in floods. “Rest was all gone,” said Hussain.

Masood Hussain, the artist, earlier taught at Music and Fine Arts College under University of Kashmir.

Masood Hussain, the artist, earlier taught at Music and Fine Arts College under University of Kashmir.

At present, these canvases are kept on an uneven floor of his top storey studio, depicting despair in beauty. These poems had reference of blood and loss. “At the time, I couldn’t understand the context. I used to wonder why Shahid gave me couplets about beauty when this is a paradise lost,” said Hussain.

Before July 8, 2016, Hussain was working on a new series about history of Kashmir.

“I am revisiting Kashmir’s history from the times when the entire valley was just a water-body. I read and then drawing sketches. I draw whatever comes to my mind,” said Hussain.

For Hussain working on a canvas is like solving a mathematical problem, sometimes which months, and at times just a few second. “My artwork talks to me. It tells me when it is complete and when it is not,” said Hussain. “But my first critic is always my wife. With the first stroke of brush she can tell me how the work will look like.”

Hussain, who retired from Arts College after teaching there for 35 years, feels bad about absence of an art gallery. “We don’t have environment where people appreciate art,” feels Hussain. “We tried our best to make art accessible to people but it didn’t happen.”

Hussain feels that every artist tries different medium to present his/her art. “Kashmiri artists live in isolation. They don’t even have knowledge about exhibitions going to take place.”

“But I am satisfied with what I do. I don’t believe in gimmicks. I work seriously for my own satisfaction. I paint for my own satisfaction,” said Hussain.

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