Iqbal Ahmad

Why isn’t anyone bothered for an art gallery in Kashmir?

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Kashmir has historically been highly sensitive about fine arts-paintings being one among them- and has produced some of the finest artists whose works of art are celebrated not only nationally but internationally as well. The trend of producing good artists never seized and we see our young artists experimenting with new art formats and doing very well.

But artists here could have done much more had they not been left to face the official neglect when it comes to lack of any official patronage that translates into the non availability of a modern art gallery in Kashmir. The non-availability of a modern art gallery has eclipsed the wonderful artifacts of Kashmiri artists who are unable to demonstrate their paining skills. Besides being a huge setback to the artist community, people- general masses, students, intellectuals, philosophy students and art lovers too have lost the appetite for such activism.

Like other arts and crafts, painting is also considered to be one of the oldest formats that humans have tries and tested but due to the lack of any credible ancient evidences, scholar are unable to precisely date the evolution of this art form.

The encyclopedia of Kashmir paintings states that the   understanding of the painting traditions of Kashmir is limited as little evidence of it has survived till date. Manuscript paintings dating prior to the seventeenth century are virtually unknown. In related media, the mural paintings at the sites of Alchi (Ladakh, western Tibet) are the only indicators of a previously existing Kashmiri style and its eastward dissemination. Moreover, the manuscript paintings from the eighteenth century onward are so varied in style—ranging from the heavily Persianized to the purely indigenous (often termed “folkish”)—that it is not possible to identify a single style among these as characteristic of the region. An inversion of the interpretative paradigm, then, is perhaps more beneficial.

Rather than perceiving Kashmiri painting to be a directionless and mediocre imitation of styles from the Islamic and Indic worlds, another perspective could be more productive: the wide and rich variety of painting styles evidenced in but two centuries of surviving examples demonstrates that Kashmiri painters were not only prolific, but that they also fruitfully incorporated the many stylistic strains reaching them through commercial and other conduits connecting the region with lower India, Central Asia, and the  East.

In fact Kashmir has a rich tradition of painting and its history in the land goes beyond Mughal period. Mughal nobles are said to have promoted tradition of painting in Kashmir in 16th Century AD. It is said that there were five painters of repute from Kashmir in Mughal Darbar, though there is no painting evidence today displayed anywhere. A remarkable set of 24 large paintings on cotton are housed in the Indian section of Victoria and Albert Museum of London which, it is said, were produced in Kashmir in the middle of 16th Century AD.

The painting gallery of the state Museum houses very few Kashmirian paintings which included few banners and portraits of 18th and 19th Century AD, besides there are several illustrated manuscript leaves which also depict local Kashmirian painting themes. The gallery houses a set of five portraits of various Rajas and Maharajas which are recorded to have been collected from Jammu. The miniatures are painted in magnificent colors and respective traditional styles. The date of these paintings does not go beyond 18th Century AD.  The painting gallery does not house a single painting of any modern Kashmiri painter, which is unfortunate.

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