More than 3,500 km south of Kashmir where it erupted three decades ago, the misery of thousands of people in their state’s ethnic strife finds portrayal in this coastal city of Kerala. A Srinagar Biennale pavilion is part of the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the subcontinent’s biggest art festival of its kind.
It is one of the infra-projects, a significant part of this edition’s curator Anita Dube’s curatorial vision. This segment curated by artist Veer Munshi turns focus to the pain and sorrow of the two communities that was forced to flee their land and settle elsewhere as refugees and features 14 artists from both the religious faiths that have been affected by the conflict that flared up in 1989.
Showcased at TKM Warehouse in Mattancherry, the central work of the project features a structure shaped like a Sufi dargah. According to Srinagar-born Munshi, the nurturing structure borrows elements from Kashmiri architecture, reinforced by secular values. “Sufi shrines are considered a common place where all could go and pray,” he notes.
The idea is to showcase how spaces like these have got marginalised, points out Delhi-residing Munshi, whose work too has been displayed in the segment. The inside of the shrine features several baby coffins with papier-mache bones and skulls. The installation is surrounded by works of other artists.
The art comes in the form of performances, paintings, photographs, papier-mache works and new media mix. The participating artists, besides Munshi, are Altaf Qadri, Ehtisham Azhar, Gargi Raina, Hina Aarif, Inder Salim, Khytul Abyad, Maumoon Ahmad, Mujtaba Rizvi, Neeraj Bakshi, Rajendar Tiku, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, Sauqib Bhatt and Showkat Nanda.
Overall, Srinagar Biennale here documents the migration and alienation faced by the Kashmiris. “Most Kashmiri artists have been in and out of the Valley since the 1990s,” notes Munshi, 63. “While some belonging to the minority Hindu community fled as part of mass exodus, the others — mostly Muslim — stayed back. Both have suffered in these shrinking cultural spaces.”
The artist further explains that the only recourse is to give life and return love to the region; embrace it and become strong. “It is only in this way we can realise our potential as a community and blossom in ways that would be more beautiful and fruitful than one could have ever imagined,” adds Munshi, an alumnus of MS University in Baroda.
Artist Gargi’s work has crows as messengers, while Sauqib’s work talks how violence and conflict become memory and, inversely, memory becomes trauma.
On the other hand, Mujtaba Rizvi juxtaposes his own images with those who have disappeared in Kashmir. His series, titled ‘If there’s a son that she could kiss’, started as a performance wherein the artist sought to present an image to Praveena Ahanger. That’s the name of the man whose son, Javaid Ahanger, was picked by the security forces two decades ago. “He has been missing ever since,” Rizvi points out. “The viewer will have to search for the current status of the people in these images — just like the parents of the disappeared person are in a state of perpetual search.”
Sanna has a video that captures a gravedigger sharing his trauma, while Neeraj’s minimalist drawings titled ‘Premonitions’ are a stark representation of happenings in the Valley.
As part of the project, the collective did a 12-hour performance featuring Saquib and Hina. Both the artists frisked people visiting the exhibit area to showcase how normal surveillance has become in Kashmir. They confiscated personal belongings, restricted people’s entry and asked for identity proofs without speaking or giving justification. “Many felt offended,” says Saquib. Adds Hina: “Others were confused. They did not know why we were frisking them.”. The message, eventually, was made clear. And loud.
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