Kashmiri artist depicts suffering through paintings

Aaqib Fayaz and Komal Wadhwa

Pablo Picasso, a famous Spanish painter, wrote: “Art is the lie that enables us to realise the truth.” An artist, having been born anywhere around the world, even in war-torn countries—tries hard to utilise the given circumstances to the best of capabilities. Although, without a moment’s hesitation, one would confide in the fact that the war has always led to a deep and lasting impact on either side but the other aspect of war is that it allows an artist to uncover the staggering humanitarian crisis and present it as a rumble of big questions, unanswered.

Kashmir, one of the war-torn regions of Indian subcontinent, has been a hotspot of widespread bloodshed since 1989, which has led to the loss of thousands of lives. Just as a caterpillar has to suffer silently in a cocoon in order to become a butterfly, so has the pain inflicted by circumstances in the valley transformed people into famous artists. They have illustrated the pain mostly in the form of poetry and paintings. While others have recorded their accounts of past sufferings either in their books or through sketches.

One such artist is Zameer Ahmad Sheikh, who lives in the Old town area of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district. An area famous for the lush green mountains through which river Jhelum passes, near the Line of Control (LoC).

Zameer, 40, started pouring out memories on the blank canvas back from his school days. His work demystifies the condition of people in Kashmir. At the age of 28, tragedy struck the family, when his father died after being hit by bullets, in cross-firing outside their home.

Hameed Ahmad Sheikh, a renowned artist from Baramulla district of North Kashmir, was killed in a cross-firing on 9 July 1992, while on his way to home with Zameer near the banks of river Jhelum. “This river holds the capacity to wring one’s heart. Over the years, people and the river have witnessed an emotional churn. The river has seen all the bloodshed, the hopelessness, and the nitty-gritty of events that have taken place over the last few decades,” Zameer recalls agonisingly.

Zameer, 40, started pouring out memories on the blank canvas back from his school days.

The Northern part of Kashmir is considered a hotbed for the insurgency. It was on October 22, 1947; when Pashtun Tribal Militias entered Kashmir through Baramulla district and rebelled against Maharaja Hari Singh’s force. Also, the disputed area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) also known as “Azad Kashmir” that shares its borders with Gilgit-Baltistan is located at the top. Due to geographical variations, major cross-border firings between the two countries take place around this area.

Late Hameed Ahmad, worked at the ‘Uri Civil Project’, a power project in North Kashmir that generates electricity to the entire State. For more than a decade, his son, Zameer Ahmad also worked there.

His father’s death brought along a season of disappointments. It voiced a sense of loss flaring up every now and then. This toll on the family took a great time to recover from the shock. Incredulous in a way, the incident paved a way for him to channelise his approach of working with colors. Through one of his art pieces, a man carrying a little boy on his shoulders, he exhibits an autobiographical account of the hay days he spent with his father.

John Ruskin, an English art critic, in a commencement speech to cadets graduating from the Royal Military Academy in 1865 ‘War gives birth to art,’ said: “..that though you must have war to produce art, you must also have much more than war.” Nobody turns out to be a winner in the end. It equally devastates both sides. Often resulting in Post-traumatic stress lasting a lifetime.

There is no denying that exiles have produced the subtle, yet violent political nuances of protest through their poetry that is reminiscent of an inescapable sense of nostalgia and helplessness.

Agha Shahid Ali, the well-known Kashmiri-American poet and also an exile, had been intensely engaged with the tragic circumstances of his motherland. The essence of his poetry lies in its brilliant combination of aesthetic and political. The tension between the personal and the historical generates new literary paradigms in Agha Shahid’s poetry. It is here that he takes the tradition to a new manifestation where his poetry can be studied as actively engaging in the historical process of struggle against oppression and injustice.

One of Zameer’s creations is linked to Agha Shahid Ali’s imagination, in which a shikara wala is sitting in his shikara with no tourists to take around.

Agha once said, “So that someone, on the shores, waits… I see the long wait, from sunrise to sunset, of the ‘shikara walas’, who return home disappointed every day as there are no tourists to take around or sell bouquets to. The shikaras parked on the shores of Dal Lake seem to suggest a cruel irony of some calm in a world that has long been burning.”

The motivation behind Zameer’s hard-work being, “I make an effort to showcase history in the form of paintings so that our generation gets a fair glimpse of events that shaped Kashmir. A scathing criticism awaits the artists if the canvas is ruled by little instruments of violence.

Nevertheless, Kashmir has produced artists with wildest dreams. From Poets like Agha Shahid Ali, Habba Khatoon to young singers cum songwriters like Yawar Abdal, Alif Saffudin, and Mohammad Muneem, behind The Band Alif. They all serve as a source of inspiration to the youth.”

“As an artist, when you look around for inspiration; this otherwise ‘heaven on earth’ provides traces of violence as muse everywhere,” Zameer adds.

Kashmiri people carrying the funeral of pandiths, after they were killed during the 90’s.
The roots of Kashmiri pandits still lie in Kashmir, even after they have left the Valley.
Life in the valley.
Children of conflict.
Lockdown in Valley.
A Mother who lost her Son.
An autobiographical account of despair the painter went through after his father was shot dead
A shikara wala, waiting for the tourists, near the famous Dal lake.

Aaqib Fayaz and Komal Wadhwa are media students at AJK, MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.