With an eye on conflict


Despair, loss and outrage find expression in an online exhibition showcasing works by Kashmiri artists. Gargi Gupta takes a look at the To Art is to Resist show


Heartaches by Ansab Jehan
Heartaches by Ansab Jehan

The artwork, a digitally altered sketch, shows a young boy in close-up, sleeping against a background of vivid green and dark maroon, the colour of congealed blood. He is the very image of innocence — pink lips puckered in sleep, his face chubby with baby fat. One of his eyes, however, is bandaged, a wide swath of white covering half his face, over which is scrawled W-H-Y; below, it says: “Nasir Ahmed Khan/ 5 years old, Blinded, Kashmiri”.

The reference is, of course, to the unrest in the Kashmir valley in the past four months, especially the hundreds who have been blinded by the pellet guns used by security personnel to combat protestors. Young Nasir was one of them. “The one question that came to my mind when I saw Nasir’s photograph in the papers was ‘Why’?” says Mujtaba Rizvi, the artist.

Why is part of an ongoing online exhibition called To Art Is to Resist, showcasing works made in response to Kashmir violence by artists in the Valley and outside. Gallerie1, which has mounted the show featuring 132 works by 36 artists, was founded by Rizvi who, besides being an arts practitioner, is also an impressario who has catalysed a vibrant contemporary arts scene in the troubled Valley in recent years.

Blind Bullet, Azim Hassan';s oil on canvas
Blind Bullet, Azim Hassan‘s oil on canvas

In 2009, Mujtaba, then 21, started Kashmir Art Quest, the state’s first contemporary arts organisation. In January, 2015, he started Gallerie1, Kashmir’s first contemporary arts space. Soon after it opened, however, state tourism department officials, who had themselves offered him the space at the Tourist Reception Centre in Srinagar’s Rajbagh locality, vandalised the gallery, destroyed paintings and seized the premises. Today, Gallerie1 survives in the virtual world, but Rizvi says he is preparing the grounds for re-launching Gallerie1‘s physical space.

Kashmir has been peripheral to the Indian modern arts narrative — GR Santosh is the only Kashmiri artist to be known outside the state. A few names, such as Veer Munshi and Inder Salim, have been added in recent times. But going by the number of artists and the variety of mediums used — paintings and digital works, installations, graphic art, photography — in the show, there seems to be an efflorescence of contemporary art production in the Valley of late.

“There is,” says Rizvi, “a new breed of artists all over Kashmir today who are doing exciting work, addressing issues of violence and alienation that are occupying artists in other parts of the world. Even in places like Anantnag, Baramulla and Sopore, there are artists who have been doing remarkable work.”

Clearly, the objective of the artists who have contributed works to the To Art Is To Resist exhibition is not, or not just, to make a pretty picture. It is to use their art to comment on the situation around them, on the violence and its immense human toll. There’s anger but there’s also pain, pathos, despair, loss, and the desire for freedom.

Caged Inside, Killed Outside by Danish Beg
Caged Inside, Killed Outside by Danish Beg

The one motif that abounds in nearly all the works is the damaged eye — bloodied, bandaged, pricked with bullet holes, or missing altogether. Danish Beg’s Caged Inside, Killed Outside is one of the most powerful renditions of the theme. The painting is of a magnified eye, with the sclera, or the white portion, perforated with three pellet holes, with two more holes in the iris which shows two fists clenched as if against the bars of a prison rod; inside the pupil you can barely make out a face, innocent and sad.

mir-suhailThen there’s political cartoonist Mir Suhail’s ironic renditions of famous images — a poster of the film Kashmir ki Kali, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Van Gogh’s Self Portrait, Munch’s The Scream, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, photographs of Nehru, Gandhi and Bhagat Singh — digitally-altered to show their eyes covered with medical plaster or bandage. Another remarkable young talent seems to be Anantnag-based Azim Hassan who works in oil paint, using it in the traditional Western high-realistic mode. His Blind Bullet shows a young boy standing against an open window, holding a cat lovingly in his arms. It’s an idyllic scene reminiscent of happy, bucolic scenes from a film, but there’s nothing merry about this boy – his eyes are shut, his face impassive and even the cat is morose. Clearly, there’s little out there to give him hope.

(Courtesy: Daily News & Analysis (DNA) Mumbai)


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