I was born and mostly raised in Kashmir. While I was exposed to the oppression and conflict in Kashmir, I was also lucky enough to have some breathers from time to time by being able to travel around and live, temporarily, wherever my father worked as a doctor – mostly in the Middle East.
It was usually a harsh time in Kashmir but probably the most important and critical years of my life that shaped my outlook and perspective towards things and life in general. After finishing my Higher Secondary education in the Valley, I studied engineering at the University of Mumbai.
I started practicing art from an early age and my role as an arts promoter under Kashmir Art Quest developed later on while I was in Mumbai. I moved to London where I received formal education is visual arts and creative and cultural entrepreneurship and all this diverse history collaborated into a research masters in Management of Innovation from Goldsmiths University of London.
I have been asked to write about arts in Kashmir or about my own practice as an artist and an arts ‘promoter’ by various publications. Irrespective of what I have to say, my response is almost always published with an overt voice of victimisation, and mostly featured in the context of the turmoil in Kashmir – something merely to feel pity about – therefore overlooking a larger discussion. I wish to emphasize that I do not imply that it is bad or clichéd to write about the curbs on freedom of expression in the Valley – for free speech is the heart and soul of creative expression.
However, we are dealing with this issue within a very narrow perspective, which in turn undermines the vast exploration and implications of creativity. Is it just that the free creative expression is being suppressed which results in lesser ‘production’ of art, or does it affect the progressive function of the society in any way? Why is creative expression important and critically so in a conflict zone? There are not the only questions.
Art, like intelligence is complex and dynamic. It is interactive. It is a creative process and comes about by inter-disciplinary way of seeing things. To be creative, it is important to be curious. The state of arts in a society strongly influences and drives its intellectual, cultural and aesthetic evolution. Art education is therefore vital.
In a society like ours, schools are places where teachers try to transfer what they know into the brains of students in the classroom, asserting a strict narrowed down structure. Teachers may be teaching but the students may not necessarily be involved in the process of learning. Our schools do not follow a culture of creativity rather a culture of compliance.
Like most artists, I do not like the label of –isms, even though I have recently found the eagerness to align my work with the movement of conceptual art. I believe that the idea itself is the work – an idea that creates or paves way for a discussion, a discourse; an idea that is uncomfortable, challenging, shocking or provocative – that pushes us to think and see beyond preconceptions; an idea that may sometimes evoke a personal experience, or liberate from experience itself, an idea that exposes our vulnerability. The interaction with the work and reaction of the audience becomes a part of the artwork. The artist and his work are catalysts.
Throughout centuries there has been a man, an invader or a regime that has gained the courage and the authority to rise and control – justly or oppressively – and throughout history people have found the will to rise up against corrupt and brute powers and claim their freedom. Such power-abusing regimes will keep rising from time to time. If you are under occupation, you are not doing enough to claim your rights. You are not making enough sacrifices – physical, social, or intellectual. You are weaker than your oppressor and he knows it. As a society you are not united enough, not productive enough nor organized enough. Your leader’s vision is as crippled as the society. You need to work more within yourselves, than crib about your misery.
However, I also believe in the idea of claiming pride in your heritage, culture and traditions; in your history and roots. I love the sense of identity and the sense of belonging to a nation or a society. Nationalism can be good but hollow patriotism makes it stupid. As humans, we have a unique ability to connect with other’s emotions, see them as our own, and respond to it productively in the best capacity of the dynamics of our intelligence and creativity. It is, therefore, important to claim victimization and let everyone know about it. People all over the world should be made aware of the moral decay of the oppressor and its tactics, and policies against your culture, your people, and your heritage.
Kashmir is a land of immense art talent with a great history of arts and crafts. The artisans here perfected the designs of Persian masters in carpets and handicrafts – even poetry. The intricacies in wood works were not only aesthetically supreme, but also intelligently engineered structures – sometimes visually symbolic, representative, conceptual or narrative. The hand-embroidered cashmere shawl or clothing is considered as a valued possession even today all over the world. Kashmiri artists have greatly influenced art movements in the Indian subcontinent, contributed original philosophies, changed and challenged the perception of thought, aesthetics, performance and visual curiosity. Our artists have shaped progressive movements and at the same time come into harmony with the global art practice.
However, unfortunately due to the conflict, apart from the infrastructure, Kashmir even lacks the basic breathing space for open artistic expression. Kashmir has witnessed immense setbacks to its artists, art industry and art education due to the decades of turmoil, disorder and absence of peace and stability. There has been lack of attention and action by the government, institutions, and universities towards the field of arts in Kashmir and an absence of organisations of substance working towards this cause. There is a prevailing lack of awareness about the importance of arts among the Kashmiri people. From my experiences, the most common idea of art is to ‘make’ visually pleasing images or things – such a narrow idea of art is dangerous.
Aiming to address all these issues, Kashmir Art Quest was created as a platform for contemporary arts – an alternate breathing space for the artistic geniuses of Kashmir to interact within themselves and the world – a stage for the free exchange of ideas and the development of the self.
It is our humble effort to rediscover the artists of Kashmir, revive and create opportunities for artists on a local and international level, promote and celebrate a culture of innovation and creativity.
Kashmir, I believe, among other things, is most importantly suffering from a severe crisis of human resources. There is extraordinary evidence of human creativity especially among children. We make very poor use of human talents. Every day, children spread their dreams beneath our feet; we must tread softly. Our case is new. But we are stuck somewhere else. We are trying to fix a broken model. In a struggle for justice, we do not need reform; we need a revolution. ‘We must think anew, we must act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country’(Abraham Lincoln).
I would like to conclude with a wonderful quote by Benjamin Franklin: ‘There are three types of people in this world. Those who are immovable – they don’t get it, they don’t want to get it. There are people who are movable – they can see the need for change and are prepared to listen. And there are people who move – who make things happen.’ We must encourage more people to move so that we have a movement. If the movement is strong enough it is a revolution, and that is what we need.