New-age artists in Kashmir preserving their heritage

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From embriodary to Ladishah to calligraphy, they shine all over

By: Taiba Hameed

Kashmir, never short of stories to tell, is itself a story, and so are the people. The rise of a new generation of artists who use social media to promote and preserve their culture has grown. Modernization has seen culture and heritage be put on the back burner but artists are not going to let it die off so easily. So artists in Kashmir have switched to these unorthodox ways to showcase, preserve as well as sustain themselves through their art.

In Anantnag, Nadia Azad is a student of Women’s Studies at the University of Kashmir. She is an embroidery artisan, which happened totally by accident according to her. Speaking to The Kashmir Images she said, “One day I was just fiddling around with some needle and thread on my glove and the next thing I know is I’m showcasing my work in our University exhibition. It’s been out of nowhere.”

She did embroidery work for friends and family as gifts in 2019 just after joining her university but it’s when she posted those pictures on Instagram she got the idea to keep it moving forward.

Getting her friends and family’s praise, she says the response and the “appreciation on Instagram made me see the work is actually valued so I wanted to be better at embroidering.”

Owing to the response, Nahida Azad has started to make decorative embroidery pieces. She makes them as she wills or when put to order. Her inventory consists of dreamcatchers as well as wall hangings among others.

Breaking the patriarch

In the heart of downtown Srinagar in a place called Alamgari Bazar, lives Areej Syed Safwi, the first female “Ladishah” (a person who uses satire in songs) of Kashmir.

Areej who is a student and is currently pursuing her Masters in Psychology, had no plans in paving herself a path of her own, and says it was a happy coincidence.

“I was one day watching a video of a Ladishah on TV and out of curiosity I put some words down of my own, put them in meter and made a video of it and uploaded it to my social media.” she then further added, “It’s when the comments started pouring in, I found out that I am the first female to ever do it.”

Having started in December of 2019, besides a few public speaking gigs, she says she has done it entirely online, through social media.

Ladishah, traditionally only done by males, is an art form that is rarely seen in the entertainment space of Kashmir and Safwi feels the responsibility has come on her shoulders now to not only revive the art but also inject new passion into it.

Being the first female to ever do it, her contribution to her art form is to create more awareness in people to revive and preserve it.

She is planning to establish herself in Mental Health Activism when she finishes her Master’s degree and if the opportunity to pursue Ladishah full time arises, she will grab it.

Meanwhile, along with support, some people have also been critical. Areej says she has been told to “not put herself out there” but besides the trolls, she has had “unconditional support” from her parents.

“They are behind me with every decision I make for which I’m grateful, and as an artist, I’m okay with criticism. It comes with the job,” she said.

Finding talents in Covid

A recent engineering graduate, Safoora Hameed, has taken a unique approach to her art. Painting and sketching have been ever-present in the 23-year old’s life, but after the lockdown hit in March, she found a lot of time at her hands and it is in this time she found her calling.

Safoora does 3D calligraphy. As an art form calligraphy had huge competition already so she wanted to something unique and make it better too, so she experimented with clay and other readily available material to elevate her calligraphy, which turned out to be a huge success.

“Initially I only did it as a stress buster and to channelize my artistic thoughts in a constructive way, but now after investing a lot of time in it, I have gotten better at it.” said Safoora while talking to Kashmir Images, adding “I have been learning through YouTube to master the craft.”

Covid lockdowns proved to be lucky for her as after posting photos of her work on social media, orders started to pour in for her.

As a young woman with no prior expertise in logistics or management, Safoora says she found the beginning to be the most difficult, “I not only had a problem trying to source my supplies but I also had to find proper packaging material to get my orders out, and I along with my parents delivered the orders myself.”

She has found support within her family for her art, “I love doing 3D calligraphy and want to polish my skills, but I will be managing my studies and passion equally, I think I’m good at doing the balancing act.”

Back in Anantnag, Nahida has been getting orders from Norway, Qatar, and Dubai. She says because of Covid lockdowns, she got 99 orders from March till October of this year.

After a lot of hit and trial, Safoora found the correct types of frames to ship her 3D calligraphy in. For her it is essential the art piece is as intended not while shipping but also presentable as a show piece for better longevity.

As technology has proliferated deep into our society, we are more tech-savvy than ever before, and the ease of access of this technology has also meant more and more people are exposed to information, which they might not have before.

These artists might not have been exposed to such life-changing experiences had art and social media not flown in tandem.

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