Using objects retrieved from September 2014 floods students of Music and Fine Arts College Srinagar told stories at an international art exhibition in Kerala. Saima Rashid reports their efforts

Students of institute of Music and Fine Art.
Students of institute of Music and Fine Art.

After September 7, 2014 floods students of Fine Arts from Music and Fine Arts College Srinagar, got a call they have been hoping they will get one day. But the timing, they were not sure, would be such challenging.

The call was from Arya Ramakrishna, one of the curators of Kochi Biennale – an international art exhibition held in Kochi, Kerala. The exhibition has a reputation that foreigner students outnumber Indian. And in 2014, it was for the first time that Kashmiri students were called to showcase their work at the exhibition.

But the timing of the call that came just days after Kashmir witnessed history’s worst floods left students in a fix. Floods had washed everything including student’s portfolios that they were supposed to send as a pre-requisite to participate in the event. Even the building that housed Music and Fine Arts College Srinagar was badly damaged in the floods.

It was Prof Showkat Kathjoo, of Music and Fine Arts College, Srinagar, who helped students gear up for the challenge. “I convinced Prof Arya to allow students participate in the event without portfolios or syllabus as everything was washout in the floods,” says Prof Katjoo.

The next big challenge for students was to choose an appropriate theme on which they can work easily, keeping in view the post flood scenario in Kashmir. Again Prof Katjoo came to their help and told them to work on ‘Found Objects’ theme and weave their stories around them. Found objects are those random objects that an artist may have found or come across during floods. “These objects were lost belongings of individuals, families or institutions, so carry a story with them,” says Prof Katjoo.

After the job of finding objects, students were reminded of ‘Erasure and Re-creation’. The objects which had other functions before floods are supposed to be programmed with new functions now; such were plans of says Prof Katjoo to make his idea more innovative.

In the end students came up with objects like glove, carpet, reels, sitar, horns etc. Every object was supposed to be presented with a story in Kochi Biennale. “My students were simply riding on their luck with an idea that was completely out-of-box kind,” says Prof Katjoo.

First story presented at the exhibition was by Saqib Bhat, a 2nd year Applied Art student. Bhat had collected film reels as his found object.

His imaginary eye took him to a boy who is living somewhere between Afghanistan and Utopia. The boy had a habit of catching wingless butterflies with the help of his fish net. But the mischievous boy turned these butterflies into fireballs and blew their dwelling place, flowers away. Out of anger they thought of killing this boy and bought some Kalashnikovs from an alien place. Kalashnikovs had the power to turn everything they photographed into a photograph itself. But giving a second thought to their idea butterflies hired UYES to kill this boy. UYES were the opponents of UNO. But to their disappointment the UYES decided the case in favor of boy. Now the only option left with the butterflies was Kalashnikov and they murdered the boy with the same and turned him into a photograph. This new weapon was then taken away by Taliban from butterflies by kidnapping them. Then a shoal of fishes robbed the weapon from Taliban and infiltrated Kashmir before being angled by the army.

“And eventually my brother found this and got it home and extracted the reels from it and then I had to kill my own brother to possess the reels to maintain balance in all 11 dimensions,” the last lines of my story, says Saqib.

Then accordingly the other stories followed the same way. The story teller would narrate and perform the story and the other participants would repeat the same with him.

“Everyone present in the hall was moved by our stories and appreciated us with full energy,” recalls Khaytul Tooba, a BFA student who was part of the team.

Tooba’s found object was a glove which she related with her grandfather. The story followed like this: her grandfather had gifted her glove which had healing powers. He had told his grand-daughter to make use of it during floods. And it is because of this she was able to rescue people in floods.

But the performance that moved everybody to tears was by Khurshid Mushtaq Ali, a BFA final year painting student.  “He (Ali) had a rough life before this exhibition, partly because of his stammer and partly because of circumstances,” says Prof Katjoo.

His found object was a small sitar shaped toy which he had found in Rajbagh after floods. Despite stammer Ali managed to weave a beautiful story around sitar. His story began like: Ameer Khusroo’s sitar is one of the ironical musical instruments and because of this he is known as the pioneer of Sufi music in India. A sitar was gifted to him by a great saint during his times and he forgot it in Kashmir during one of his visits. Some students preserved it and my family was one of them. It was raised to the status of relic. And then it became a tradition to play it near the ear of a new born baby right after seven days of his birth. But when I was born one of its strings had become loose and my family avoided this thing and played the same way on my birth as well. It was due to this that I got difficulty with rhyming the word. It became a part of my life and now I stammer.

Sumaira Majeed , a BFA 2nd year student converted her found object remote control in to phone. But in her story, the phone could connect her to her grandfather and other aged people. She could update them with current times and they about theirs.

“Once the performances were over, Wadera Art Gallery Delhi invited us to exhibit our works and perform our stories there as well,” said Saqib.

“I had never dreamt of seeing myself and students into wadera Art Gallery, but Kochi Biennale opened every door and now there will be no halt,” says Prof Katjoo.

The same students are currently painting murals at Hyderpora flyover, a project undertaken by the SMC’s to beautify Srinagar city.


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