Last fall, a young girl retrieved the typical Kashmiri slangs into a fascinating wall calendar. When Salma Masood met Instagram’s Alif, it turned out to be Kashmir’s Ghazal of art
At a young age in her non-Muslim majority boarding school in Jaipur, Ghazal would assign Urdu names to her friends. “I called one of my friends Laila,” she said. “We were very good friends so I named myself Alif. I really liked the name, Alif Laila.” Ghazal goes by Alif on Instagram where she shares her work.
At 24, she is one of the very few Kashmiri illustrators. Alif was brought up as Ghazal Qadri in Bhagat, Barzulla. After her matriculation from Mallinson Girls School in Srinagar, she went to pursue +2 studies in commerce from MGD High School in Jaipur.
“Becoming an illustrator was not the idea while I was growing up, but destiny had other plans,” she admits.
Thus opting for B.Design in Lifestyle and Accessories Design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Hyderabad was a natural progression.
Her hard work and passion got her a fellowship under Abdul Ahad Guru Scholars Program, which she attended during April-May 2018 at Buffalo in the United States.
During her stay in Buffalo, Ghazal collaborated with the Society for the Advancement of Construction Related Arts (SACRA)—a training program in carpentry and woodworking— in order to produce a series of tile designs to be implemented by SACRA trainees.
In Buffalo, Ghazal’s study combined aspects of decorative ceiling patterns from the Khatambandh tradition of Kashmir with ornamentation from local historic buildings. Ghazal’s pattern designs were incorporated into furniture components and a large wooden wall relief that is currently under construction at SACRA headquarters at Assembly House.
As a child, she used to create things out of scrap. Now, she loves playing with driftwood. She has a huge collection of driftwood fished out from rivers and streams across Kashmir. “Drawing cartoons was only a hobby. I did a few internships; it was then that I decided to be an illustrator,” she said. Currently, Ghazal is working as an illustrator at Lollypop Studio in Bangalore.
Ghazal is known for her Kashmiri slang based illustrations. Her first illustration came about of her mother admonishing her from going out. “One day at home, it so happened that I had to go somewhere but my mom didn’t permit me. So out of anger I made an illustration and posted it on Instagram,” she said.
This was followed by her first Kashmiri slang illustration that reads Kharizaleeli, which means an action or behaviour that leads to shame or humiliation. It was well taken. She did also some work on promoting Kashmiri culture.
She got lucky as WhatsApp introduced a sticker option on its messaging application and people started exchanging stickers in their native languages. She credits her father for to help her in coining catchy phrases.
For Ghazal, drawing is exploring different mediums to enhance one’s creative quality. “I use my product designing knowledge while developing ideas for my illustration. I try to mix both of my skills to bring about new things. I am enjoying it. That is why I am doing it,” she said.
Ghazal draws her inspiration from renowned artists like Alicia Souza, Gemma Correll, Aditi Mali, and Vishnu Nair. “To me, style is not so important. It is all right to be bad at drawing as long as there is good content and you are able to convey your feelings,” she explained.
Working at Lollypop Studio for over six months, Ghazal is planning to shift to Mumbai. Given a chance she also wants to pursue a master’s degree in illustration making. Before joining Lollypop Studio she had planned to stay home and work as a freelance illustrator. However, it didn’t mature due to some technical reasons.
Recently, Ghazal collaborated with two Kashmiri brands, South and Koshurwear and five other artists working under Kashmiri Women Design Collective initiated by Onaiza and Sama Bèg to compile a calendar dedicated to the 12 most inspirational women of Kashmir. She has herself created a calendar named Kath Bath(negotiation) featuring her illustrations. “I wanted to make something out of it after I got good reviews. It was the end of the year so I thought I could make a calendar, “she said.
Ghazal, however, regrets that Kashmir lacks platforms for artists. “Art isn’t yet accepted as a profession in our state,” she said. “I haven’t worked with anyone except Onaiza Drabu and Sama. It was a good experience. Onaiza always has these ideas coming up. I really appreciate this idea of getting the artists together.”
Of late design studios like Studio kilab and online marketing networks like Gyawun, Sounth, Koshurwear are actively working to showcase the works of Kashmir artists and designers. In the long run, it is going to be a morale booster for young artists.
Ghazal is not in a hurry to return home. “It is my earnest desire to learn and better my skills so that one day I come back home and start my studio and enjoy my cup of nun chai,” Ghazal said. “It is challenging to pursue art in Kashmir but not impossible to work with one’s creative abilities.”