With its abundant flora and fauna, the crystal clear water of the Dal lake, fresh air and snow-capped mountains, Kashmir truly is a paradise. But over the years it has become a paradise lost to those who call this beautiful landscape home. A cloud of darkness has loomed over the conflict-ridden state since 1947 when India gained independence from colonial rule and a newly freed country was torn into pieces. Kashmir joined the Indian territory but with its large population of Muslims, Pakistan laid its claim as well. The result has been years of war and turmoil in a once-peaceful and heterogeneous society having undergone irreparable loss to both life and property.
Art has long been one of the most powerful and universally accessible tools for political protest and self expression. Political art as a form of social activism stirs civic consciousness and often produces and dispels knowledge and solidarity across borders, drawing in attention and opening up a dialogue about the current state of affairs in regions under repressive regimes, or those curbed by censorship laws and a lack in freedom of speech. It’s not surprising then that in Kashmir, the youth have often taken to art to make critical political and social statements. Be it absurdist performance pieces, telling graphic novels or a group of University students turning a fallen Chinar tree into an installation of artistic protest, dissent and angst has found an outlet in numerous forms of art. While we all hear media-sensationalised news about the conflict zone, life in a region of political struggles, disputed borders and constant violent protests where civilians more often than not end up being mere collateral damage, needs room for voices that are actually living in their reality on a day to day basis.
Art has served as an outlet and contributor to the young freedom movement, and today, we look at some of the brilliant resistance art coming out of Kashmir that give us insight, a new perspective and sort of defiant critical view of the popular state-dictated narrative.
I. Mir Suhail
Influenced by the current violence and crisis in Kashmir, the works of political cartoonist Mir Suhail took social media by storm recently when he turned pre-existing popular works of art and known personalities such as Girl With A Pearl Earring and Whistler’s Mother, and not to forget a poster of Bollywood Film Kashmir Ki Kali as well as Mahatma Gandhi, into bandaged, wounded victims of pellet guns, a ‘non-lethal weapon’ as the police claims, that are used by Indian security forces in the state to disperse protesters.
II. Masood Hussain
Highly acclaimed and winner of multiple awards, renowned artist and sculptor Masood Hussain needs little introduction. Kashmir and the prevalent violence is depicted heavily in his works but what we will focus on today is a series of digital artworks he recently published on social media called ‘Silent Images.’
Featuring pellet-struck children in a series of black and white images, Hussain’s images are as haunting and disturbing as the reality of the situation is on-ground in Kashmir. In one picture we see two children walking with the help of sticks as if blind, in another’s we see young boys with no eyes and even a school bag carrying rocks. “I feel for these youth and children whose life had just begun. They hadn’t seen anything yet and now these pellets have ensured that they will never see anything,” said Hussain to DailyHunt.
‘Silent Images’ is yet another hard-hitting criticism of the use of pellets guns as crowd control, it’s devastating consequences and the lives of the Kashmiri youth in shambles.
Click here to view the entire series
Addressing the use and abuse of pellet guns in the Valley, communication agency BlackSheep.Works, perhaps the only agency of it’s kind on the state, too took to Twitter posting a series of illustrations and posters addressing the rampant use of pellet guns and the children and adults left blinded and maimed but often just seen as collateral damage in the pursuit of national security and curbing acts of terror.
Driving the point home, founder and Kashmir resident Asif Amin Tibet Baqual created posters in braille shedding light on this growing and pressing matter.
IV. Malik Sajad’s ‘Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir’
Graphic novelist Malik Sajad’s ‘Munnu: A Boy From Kashmir’ is equal parts a form of self-expression, and an effort to humanize what life in Kashmir is actually like for its locals. Depicting the life of a young boy growing up in war-torn Kashmir, Munnu gives us a detailed insight into the daily existence of local Kashmiris who live and breathe the harsh realities that we’re only offered a taste off via mainstream media, in an almost autobiographical account.
Despite its deeper subtext however, which is understandable given Sajad’s history of political cartooning, the novel remains at its essence a beautiful coming of age story of the author himself, through depictions of Munnu’s love interests, his school life, and his family, which keeps it utterly relatable even as the feeling of impending brutality and death haunt every page of the novel.
Click here to read our in-depth interview with Malik Sajad.
V. Kashmiri Cabbage Walker
Face hidden and dressed in a traditional pheran, there is an unassuming man walking a cabbage on the streets of Kashmir, and for those passing by, it makes for a peculiar sight. As one might imagine, this is neither a joke nor a prank. The artist, who chose to stay anonymous while speaking with us, fully understands that the conflict-ridden state is hardly the best backdrop for humour, yet borrowing from a performance project much bigger than one place or person (actually called Walking the Cabbage) he’s certainly making a statement about the state of affairs in his home state. A movement initially conceptualised by Chinese artist Han Bing, as a form of social intervention, to instigate conversations and debates, Bing has travelled the world with the project. The Kashmiri Cabbage Walker, as the artist prefers to be called, then sought permission from Bing to perform the series of acts in the Kashmiri context of militarization.
KWC remained an enigma for a long time only to surface on Facebook following the first performance on December 20, 2015, at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. The performance was documented and photographs were circulated online with writings about the performance appearing in Kashmir Reader. The next cabbage walk took place on February 2, 2016, and, as told to Homegrown by the Kashmiri Cabbage Walker, it was far less confrontational, with the purpose of showing the Kashmiri streets and landscape mutated and morphed by war and conflict.
Click here to read our in-depth interview with the Kashmiri Cabbage Walker to know about this absurdist performance.
VI. Roushan Illahi AKA MC Kash
Kashmiri rapper Roushan Illahi, also known as MC Kash, is a 24-year-old who was “seduced by the sincerity” of lyrical hip-hop, and went on to employ the form in the most authentic way possible: to voice his angst and sheer frustration of living in an occupied territory. Pop references that are ubiquitous in Western hip hop are replaced by references to local martyrs, the Quran, historical events, the perennial violence and instability to weave together a powerful narrative in a feat that is nothing short of artistry.
Like many in the conflict-plagued area, Roushan too has lost loved ones in the crossfire and one of the people he mentions, Inayat Khan, was a friend of his. “ I still remember walking up to his funeral among wails and tears. I still remember the scars all over his body. I still remember shouldering his coffin,” MC Kash told the BBC. Having discovered hip hop growing up in the valley thanks to the world wide web, rappers like Tupac presented no less than an epiphany in how he could adapt the genre to give voice to the turbulence and loss in his life. And while he borrows from artists like Immortal Technique, he never once compromises on the authenticity of his own work.
VII. Ghalib & The Grafitti Crew El Horiah
Going by the name Ghalib, 20-year-old Ali, who choses not to disclose his name, is one of the growing number of graffiti artists whose work you can spot sprawled across walls around the state from the desolate outskirts of Srinagar to the bustling inner walls of Lal Chowk. Although the defacing of public property is a criminal offence and illegal in the region, what these individuals do is not vandalism but a socio-political commentary right in the face of society. These are walls locals cross every day, it’s hard for it to go unnoticed and difficult to ignore or avoid, and that’s exactly the point. Behind guises of false names and covered faces artists such as Mr. Ali and graffiti group El Horiah — horiah means freedom in Arabic — elude being reprimanded and continue to spray-paint messages of protest. Ali tells The New York Times that he leaves his message’s slightly vague and abstract, getting people to stop and think rather than have it painted over. “Look at what is happening to people here. There is corruption, more drugs, and women are being raped,” he said to the publication. “Before fighting for freedom, we need to begin fixing our problems first.” Their messages aren’t pro Pakistan and anti-India, or vice versa for that matter, but about awakening as Kashmiris and fixing the problem inside out.
Click here to read more about Kashmiri graffiti in this report by The New York Times