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, with people living in a perpetual state of fear and violence.
Art has long been one of the most powerful and universally accessible tools for political protest and self-expression. As a form of social activism, it stirs civic consciousness and often produces knowledge across borders. Art has the power to draw attention to, open up a dialogue about, and challenge the status quo of repression and censorship. It’s not surprising then that in Kashmir, there has been a steady surge of young creatives from all artistic disciplines who have taken to their art as a form of expression. In the rare cases that news about Kashmir makes it to the mainstream, it’s often sensationalised and politicised. To move forward, we have to give space for the voices that have been silenced. Art is an opportunity as much as it is a movement – to show a side of Kashmir that’s honest, raw, beautiful and holistic. We’ve put together a list of 10 young Kashmiri creatives that are bold and spirited and using their brilliant art to make a difference.
I. Mohammad Muneem (Singer)
Lead singer of the band Alif, formerly known as Highway 61, Muneem’s stirring voice and hard-hitting lyrics stay with you long after the song is finished, forcing you to contemplate and reflect on the current state of our country. Combining contemporary western pop music with traditional Kashmiri folk and indigenous instruments, his songs – written in Urdu and Hindi – resonate almost painfully with what most Kashmiris feel. From violence in the state to political turmoil, communal hatred to perpetual conflict, the engineer-turned-musician from Srinagar has captured many hearts and brought tears to many eyes with his soulful and captivating music.
Check out his poetry and the band’s performances here.
II. Feroz Rather (Writer)
Feroz Rather is a Kashmiri writer whose riveting words have changed the face of the creative literary space of India. His first book, The Night of Broken Glass (2018), has shaken global readers with its intimate look into “the perpetual nightmare of violence we are made to experience in Kashmir.” Through the anthology of 13 short stories, Rather reveals the emotional trauma and disturbing truths about life under military occupation, framing Kashmir through the lenses of religion, caste and gender. His deeply poetic approach to both writing and Kashmir is reflective as much of his heart as it is his soul. “I chose to write about Kashmir only as much Kashmir chose to write itself through me. When you witness violence closely when you grow up with the fear of losing your brothers and sisters, with the fear of your father you deeply love and respect being slapped in the marketplace, with the fear that an entire people’s life and dignity is in danger, it registers,” he said in an interview with Platform Mag. “One might live in places as far away as one could get from Kashmir, but the memory of the desire for freedom remains. The hurt remains. The darkness remains. The bruises and the shards remain. Writing is remembrance. Writing is mourning. Writing is composing endless inventories of grief.”
III. Danish Renzu (Director)
A Kashmiri native and UCLA alumnus, Danish Renzu is a film director who hopes to “inspire a new generation of Kashmiri filmmakers to practice their art, as a force for unity in a conflicted region.” He has directed several short films, including the award-winning In Search of America, Inshallah (2014). His first feature film, Half Widow (2017) is the story of a Kashmiri woman searching for her husband who is abducted by armed men, and his second, Pashmina explores decades of strife faced by Kashmiris. He is currently working on a musical, Songs of Paradise, that aims to revive Kashmiri music and art through film. His work is evocative, poignant and an important testament to understanding India’s role in its northern-most regions.
IV. Malik Sajad (Graphic Novelist)
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 of 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.
VI. Masood Hussain (Artist)
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 especially striking is his digital collection on social media titled ‘Silent Images.’ Featuring pellet-struck children in black and white images, Hussain’s work is as haunting and disturbing as the reality of the situation in Kashmir. In one picture we see two children walking with the help of sticks as if blind, in another 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.
V. Pragnya Wakhlu (Singer)
The beautiful valleys of Kashmir for too long have been stained by blood, war and hatred. “That’s the perception I want to change through my music. Kashmir is about so much more than terror,” says Pragnya Wakhlu, echoing a sentiment many Kashmiri artists resonate with. Born in Srinagar and raised in Pune, Pragnya was as interested in music as she was in exploring her Kashmiri roots. Music was always a form of self-expression for her, a passion she wanted to pursue so strongly that she quit her job and dedicated herself to it. Her latest album, Kahwa Speaks, aims to introduce the world to the hidden facets of Kashmiri culture and help preserve the language through live audio-visual tours and storytelling. Her songs, usually in a combination of English and Kashmiri, are a mix of contemporary renditions of Lal Ded and Habakhatoon’s poetry and traditional Wanwun music. Her original compositions speak of peace and unity, straying away from any direct political agenda.
You can listen to Pragnya’s music on her website here.
VII. MC Kash (Rapper)
Taking the name ‘Kash’ from his homeland, MC Kash is unhindered and fearless when voicing his political opinions through his rap. He chooses “songs over stones” to express his dissent, exploring themes like hope, courage, survival, resilience and persistence. Music is a powerful tool for social transformation, resistance, activism and justice, and MC Kash is an inspiring example. His music is a combination of hip-hop, urban beats and indigenous Kashmiri sounds and various cultural influences from the state. Having grown up in a state of turmoil, Kash wants to stay true to his streets and tell the stories of his. His most iconic rap song, I Protest, was released when he was just 17. His collective works paint a brutally honest picture of Kashmir that have ignited the first seeds of change.
Check out MC Kash’s Facebook page here.
Or listen to his music here.
VIII. Mir Suhail Qadri (Political Cartoonist)
Influenced by the current violence and crisis in Kashmir, political cartoonist Mir Suhail’s work is extremely popular across social media. His most prominent drawings include his “re-telling” of classics like ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ and ‘Whistler’s Mother’, a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, as well as the poster for Bollywood film Kashmir Ki Kali (1964). He converted these into bandaged, wounded victims of pellet guns – claimed to be “non-lethal” by the Indian security forces that use them to disperse protesters. His hard-hitting work presents the political realities of suffering and conflict for what they really are at their core: not deeply complex, bureaucratic issues but simply a failure of humanity.
You can view his work here.
Ahmer Javed is a young and emerging rapper from Srinagar, who has been making music since 2012. Through his radical lyrics, he brings to the fore his life spent amid conflict in Kashmir. He released his debut eight-track album, Little Kid, Big Dreams, followed by his four-track EP, Inqalab, last year. While the former has piercing tracks like ‘Kasheer’ that pay homage to his childhood spent breaking societal barriers to pursue his interests in the midst of strife, Inqalab, on the other hand, looks at the Valley post the revoking of Article 370. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, life in Kashmir has become worse, leading to even more suppression and silencing of the voices of Kashmiris. It is within this context that Ahmer has come up with his latest album, Tanaza, he collaborates with Tufail – another emerging voice from the valley. The music video shows the duo dodging the security checkpoints in the valley, that continues fighting for its autonomy and freedom of expression.
Hailing from Old Srinagar’s Chattabal area, Tufail is a graduate in Economics from Chandigarh. He got to know Syed Arslan, another artist from the valley when they were both studying in Delhi. On meeting, they exchanged their ideas about hip hop and started their YouTube channel, ‘Straight Outta Srinagar (SOS)‘ after they came back to the Valley. The duo recently released their much-talked-about rap song, called ‘Khoon Reezi’, which details the political situation in the valley after the abrogation of Article 370. They believe that hip-hop, a genre which espouses fast-paced lyrics and mobilising radical ideology has helped them in venting their pent-up anger against the Indian government. However, the duo says that producing good quality rap is not easy since it demands a certain level of financial strength and expertise to not compromise on ‘lyrics, sound engineering, and rhythm.” The duo is looking to connect other rappers in Kashmir and learn from each other, hoping that someday there will be “cyphers” in Kashmir.
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