Kashmir’s Young Women Artists Explore New Ways To Express Resistance
Five young Kashmiri female artists talk about what inspires them to resist through art
SRINAGAR: One of the most interesting elements of Kashmir’s varsity is a fallen maple tree outside the Fine Arts department on the Naseem Bagh side of campus. The tree has been covered with symbols and messages, turning it into a piece of art that embodies the opinions and expressions of its various young artists.
(The fallen chinar tree)
In recent years, more and more of Kashmir’s young have taken to expressing themselves through art -- whether poetry, or painting, or music. Girls in Kashmir are at the forefront of this change, with many seemingly following the footsteps of women like Habaaa Khatoon , a 16th-century Kashmiri poet and ascetic, who is also known as the 'Nightingale of Kashmir'.
In a place like Kashmir -- which is often in the headlines for stone pelting or militancy -- local girls have found creative ways to express their struggle and hardships. . There is growing trend seen in past couple of years where girls have used the canvas to reflect on political, social and other issues.
Five young, budding Kashmiri female artists, all in their twenties, talk about what makes them pick up the brush and use this innovative way to resist and reflect on socio-political issues in conflict hit Kashmir.
They also point out the difficulties a young female artist encounters, the societal bias, and why there is a need for more women artists to tell their stories and resist through their art.
“What more can influence a human mind than the emotions of agony that we experience on daily basis in Kashmir?” Jasia Iqbal said.
Jasia Iqbal,23, is a Kashmiri artist who believes that art is the intellectual stimulant for change in any society, and in Kashmir’s particular case, art is a relevant tool to reflect on the issues specific to the conflict hit valley. Holding a bachelor’s in business administration, she also runs an online business selling her own art work.
Her forte is landscaping in oils, big floral designs on canvas and portraits in color and charcoal.
“Paintings not just give us a space to explore our creativity and emotions but they make us work on our individuality, this was one of the driving forces that made me pick up the brush and paint on varying issues” Jasia said.
One of her paintings of a nine year old boy crying on a funeral of a teenager who was killed during an encounter in south Kashmir went viral last year. She had shared the picture on her Instagram, from where it was picked up and widely circulated.
(Jasia Iqbal’s crying boy painting)
The caption read “stories of unending grief continue to surge”.
The picture -- of Kashmiri boy with tears rolling down his cheeks -- became the face of suffering sweeping the region and Jasia expressed the sentiment perfectly through her art.
Jasia describes art as one of the most impactful forms of resistance. She speaks about the variety of hues and their symbolic representations and the volumes of emotions conveyed.
“For me it’s not just the pencil on my canvas, it’s a combination of everything that helps me create an aura on the canvas to promote a cause or to resist the oppression,” she adds.
Someone has rightly said , "conflict is a place where art thrives the most." The statement is true for 24 year Hina Arif who categorically speaks about how Kashmir as a conflict hit zone has affected her and her art.
“Earlier I used to draw landscapes and sceneries , but after the unrests of 2008, 2010 and recently 2016, something changed; it changed me inside out. I felt suffocated in the smoke of turmoil. I was not just the same girl. I was an artist in conflict.”
Hina is an artist whose work is the reflection of what it is like to be from the land of conflict. She has a Master’s in Applied art form from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
She has been working on many art series related to conflict and human rights violations. Her work on Kashmir’s pellet victims sends a very strong and emotional message through her imaginative and artistic skills.
Hina draws powerful portraits depicting pain in conflict hit Kashmir. She drew a portrait of a 2016 pellet victim Insha Malik, who was hit in her eyes by pellets when she was watching protests from the window of her house in South Kashmir’s Shopian.
The portrait became the symbol of the sufferings of Kashmir’s pellet victims who lost their eyes to these so called-non lethal weapons.
Hina shared the portrait on her Instagram with the powerful caption “They say it is a non-lethal weapon.”
(Portrait of a pellet victim by Hina Arif)
Describing her struggle as a female artist and what it is like to work on a sensitive issue like Kashmir, Hina speaks about the hate messages to rape threats she often receives.
“I chose my people over my safety. I was threatened with rape by many people outside Kashmir. Unfortunately some of them were people who I knew while I was in Delhi. But I didn't stop working”
“In a society where women are not even safe inside their houses, I chose to work on something which broke the barriers of gender… to speak for the oppressed, since it is not just a man's responsibility to fight for justice,” she said.
20 year old Badrunissa Bhat identifies herself as a spiritual artist inspired by Rumi, a 13th century Muslim poet. She believes that works of art are not just about a painted canvas but a touch of spirituality which brings everything into life and makes one speak about every issue between love and grief.
“My inspiration is the pain that we feel for our land and the love that I represent in my paintings through Whirling Darvish that represents the existence of divine force” Badrunissa said.
(‘Sufi’ by Badrunissa)
Badrunissa believes pain and issues relating to Kashmir affects every sensitive soul, with artists, poets and others equally impacted. The conflict also serves as an inspiration for so many beautiful works of aesthetics, as it embodies them with meaning.
While expressing what it is like for a female artist, she says “as a women artist we tend to face certain social prejudices and but our passion of painting can never be hampered by people who are always there to discourage”
She further says that “I have come to understands we all are humans first, then comes the gender, or anything else.”
23 year old Shafiya Shafi is a student of Psychology who divides her time between studies and following her passion for art.
She has been painting on women issues and Kashmiri politics. She never restrains herself from expressing her political statement by using different colors on her canvas. Be it pellet victims or braid chopping, she has let her brush do the talking.
(A work on braid chopping by Shafiya Shafi)
This pic was painted by Shafiya Shafi when Kashmiri women were traumatized by the wave of mysterious braid chopping incidents.
The pic was shared by her on Instagram with the caption that read “my window is shut tight, doors locked. The road was prison already. But now my home has become one too.” The artwork depicts the magnitude of mental anxiety that Kashmiri women went through during last year’s wave of braid chopping incidents.
Shafiya says the inner and outer conflict in and around a person happens to be the main driving force for an artist by which she can get inspired and in Kashmir there is no lack of such inspiration.
“I think inner conflict of a person inspires one to create; pain is a driving force for an artist that inspires him and everybody knows how painful this valley can be.”
The young artist feels that women issues, youth and the landscape of Kashmir are some of the reasons that make her pick up the brush and fill her canvas with different colors of joy and gloom.
Afifa Makhdoomi is a Student of Fine Arts at Kashmir University. This 23 year old artist says that pain and conflict were always a spark of inspiration for her that compelled her to pick up the brush and express her inner feelings.She excels in illustrations and posters and describes these forms as the best format to use in the art against any form of resistance.
While asked about fighting social bias and other social constraints as an artist she said “being brought up in a society where the profession of a doctor or an engineer is considered superior than any other profession. I had to go through a lot to break the stereotype. I had to make people understand that the world is not about two professions only.”
She shares one of her posters of Mehran Latief, a three year old child who went missing from Srinagar in 2008 and was never found. Was he killed, abducted or literally vanished in thin air, no one knows.
(Lost Kid by Afifa Makhdoom)
While talking about what inspired her to draw the missing kid’s poster, she said “I wanted to paint the innocence of his childhood on the canvas and wanted everyone to empathise and feel the pain and anxiety that his parents have been through. It’s another kind of pain when you have no clue what happened to your loved ones. It gives you a never vanishing scar.”
In a place like Kashmir where resistance ends up in PSAs, behind bars and as body bags at encounter sites, these female artists have found the safest yet perhaps most powerful way to resist social and political injustice. They have shown a new path to young girls to combat oppression and bring about a change.