For him art is an expression that needs no fixtures of disciplines within art. Ehtisham Azhar tells Durdana Bhat how practicing art under the contemporary artists has changed his views
It was a different experience for everyone when Ehtisham Azhar, 25, along with Hilal Ahmad Khan performed at the International Day of the Disappeared, organized by the APDP, using his white-painted body wrapped in white sheet as a metaphor of the presence/absence of the disappeared body. Another performance was done during Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir, a counter event to protest against Zubin Mehta’s controversial concert at Shalimar gardens in Srinagar along with other artists of the same genre. A graduate in visual arts from Pakistan’s reputed Beacon House National University, Lahore, Ehtisham’s way of expression is out-of-the-box. “I am interested in visual arts since my school days. Initially it was painting, but with age I became more involved in Visual Arts referred here as fine arts,” says Ehtisham.
The four years Ehtisham spent in Pakistan helped him grow as a performing artist. “I have immense regard for that time.”
In June 2014, Ehtisham came back from Pakistan and began working as a mentor for a group of undergraduate students at Kashmir University’s Department of Music and Fine Arts along with Showkat Kathjoo and Mubashir Niyaz.
Ehtisham credits Showkat Kathjoo, his teacher, for his critical understanding of art. Ehtisham’s work is primarily divided into two categories: concentrating on installations, and performances. He uses his body as a site to invoke and interpret both historical complexities and personal experience. Earlier he used to combine merging of body, space and text, into a single act.
“My artistic interests are dominated by ideas of identity, freedom and incarceration in the context of geo-politics, power dynamics and the notion of the panopticon; all of which have been explored through the concept of body performing in space,” says Ehtisham. “The capacity to use one’s body to express lends these encounters a schizophrenic tendency towards multiple identities including political and psychological.”
Though, visually Ehtisham’s performances are very simple, they engage many layers of understanding of the word conflict.
For him it would be failure of his practice, if his work is only seen through one scope or lens and linked to a particular geo-political scenario or locality. His understanding of conflict manifests from the observation and experiences of geo-politics, to the household to history.
Ehtisham’s understanding of history is not just as a static event sealed in the vaults of the past, and dedicated to the manufacture of heroes of monumental scale; rather it is the recognition of historic events existing in their multiplicity.
“My interest lies in reverting history back to its constituent elements in my work,” says Ehtisham. “I celebrate history as a fiction, or as a fictional memory.”
Ehtisham, along with other young artists like him, is working towards making this offbeat form of art popular among masses. “The scenario has already started to change.”
Ehtisham, along with another young artist Mubashir Niyaz mentored a group of young artists on a Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art’s sponsored tour. He has also performed in the residency offered by Nikhil Chopra, a celebrated Performance artist of International repute in Goa.