Reviewed by Habiba Insaf
A huge canvas arbitrarily painted by a collective of artists to reveal a work in progress hangs in a silent vestibule waiting to extend the visual journey of Kashmir. Kashmir- a place known for its delectable landscapes and far-famed handicrafts – a paradise on earth or a burning inferno; a place that carries a complex political history of occupation and terrorism, curfews and crackdowns – capturing stories of unflinching resistance and a life strife torn on a spread of canvas is challenging at best. A uni-dimensional perspective is unaffordable; a shift in discourse is pressing.
Initiated by the Kashmir Art Quest, Keep the Canvas Rolling is an international art project that beginning with Srinagar, Kashmir traces its journey to 18 cities in 12 countries inviting artists in each city to visually interpret Kashmir to finally become a permanent public art installation by the banks of Dal lake in Srinagar.
After initial impressions had been made by artists in Srinagar, the canvas reached its next destination –New Delhi to be hosted by the School of Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Over the next three days, several artists engaged in translating their idea of Kashmir in form and colour and extending the narrative of the extant work begun in the valley. In the politically vibrant university campus, several have never visited Kashmir, their thoughts largely influenced by popular discourse, media and literature.
Prashanta Bandyopadhya, a Hyderabad school trained artist and recipient of the Residency Fellowship in Beijing, inserts a group of enthralled tourists that mirrors the spectator’s own captivation with the scenic delight that unfolds in front of him. Bandyopadhya intelligently sets the picture in dialogue with an earlier which shows the tourist’s camera capturing the romantic landscape drawn by the Srinagar artists. The romanticisation of Kashmir is shattered with a pair of masked eyes that hauntingly wait in ambush amidst lofty, sublime mountains in Biplab Roy’s work. Roy has been a recipient of Ecole Supérieur des Beaux Arts, Marseille Fellowship 2012-13 and is a practicing artist based in New Delhi. The coexistence of beauty and terror, the well-disposed restraint of colour, provocative symbology and the quality of draughtsmanship effectively captures the inherent contradiction of a picturesque Kashmir.
The textured lyricism in prominent Jammu based artist Reecha Gupta’s work conjures the mystical landscape of the valley while the poetic impressions of the manuscript cut-outs references the diverse cultural history of the site. Ashwani Gupta on the other hand makes a sincere effort to symbolically denote his idea of modern day Kashmir using colours and geometric shapes.
After priming the audience to the political and cultural reality of contemporary Kashmir, Inder Salim, a conceptual/performance artist practicing for over 25 years and a Sarai Independent Fellow (2006-07) traced the shadowy outlines of his video performance with a pair of charcoal sticks granting ephemerality permanence on the canvas. Delicate, neat lines meet short harsh etching to outline a desolate figure outside an abandoned house; its crevices filled with brief text in scrawled Urdu. Born Inder Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit in exile, the artist took on a hyphenated identity of Inder-Salim reflecting the cultural polarisation based on the lines of religion. John Xavier, a PHD student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, pays homage to the artist by rendering a portrait of Inder Salim with a toy shikara in his hand referencing the artist’s performance at Harkat@ Sarai. For Xavier, it is not the iconisation of a single artist but Inder Salim’s personal significance as the “poster boy” of Kashmir struggle that makes his presence relevant in contemporary Indian art.
Over the days, the canvas brims with the promise of bringing forth diverse readings and expressive minds together. The welcoming siege of inter-textual works rich in cultural references and ideas extends the possibility of the canvas’s dialogue with the world. YS Alone, Assistant Professor at the School of Arts and Aestehtics, JNU and an alumni of the prestigious Baroda school of Fine Arts inserts a class angle in the struggle of Kashmir with his vivid expressionist colours to depict a double portraiture emblematic of the two faces of Kashmir.
Priyanka Kumar, an illustrator and graphic designer based in New Delhi visually interprets Agha Shahid Ali’s poem “A History of Paisley” using the cultural leitmotif of paisley as an entry point to evoke drops of blood and shards of glass in the context of modern day Kashmir.
My work is a parody of the quintessential tourist poster -the beautiful meadows and gorgeous sunsets traded for caged landscape and mutilated figures trapped in distrustful surveillance.
What is the reality of Kashmir and whose Kashmir is it? Ajit Kumar, a postgraduate student at the school with a degree in Fine Arts from Hyderabad school of Art draws the contested map of Kashmir which is the apple of discord between three nations. The symbol of Kashmir camouflaged as a flower alongside a chinar leaf reverberates the beautiful yet troubled landscape of the region.
The end result is a collective cacophony stitched together on a single piece of canvas which is only expected to grow louder with every intervention, addition and effacement at the numerous sojourns of the globetrotting canvas. Can a unitary position be deluded to benefit a simplistic reading? We may begin by asking -Is it Kashmir or Cashmere? Or Kaschmir? Perhaps Qashmir. Cashmir. Kashmere. Cashemire. Cushmeer. Cachmiere. There can never be a single answer.
Photo Courtesy: The Writer.
Keep the Canvas Rolling is an initiative of Kashmir Art Quest [KAQ], an independent artist-led organisation based in Srinagar. The project is supported by J & K Tourism, Redstone Film, Kashmir Wallah and FILL Platform. After Srinangar and New Delhi, the canvas was shipped to Guangzhou, China. It will be hosted in Mumbai on 25th, 26th and 27th June at Sir JJ School of Fine Arts, Mumbai. You can follow Keep the Canvas Rolling in press and track its journey at http://kashmirartquest.org/