Basharat Bashir

Street Art in Kashmir

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Kashmir, besides its scenic beauty is equally known for its astonishing art and craft and artists here ehibit immense talent in generating mesmerizing artifacts admired around the world. Despite having aesthetic sense, unfortunately our valley has not been so keen to recognize and appreciate fine arts. When it comes to Painting, sculpting or any other branch of fine arts Kashmir has managed to overlook it and ignored its importance. Art signifies development, and it’s a medium of expression that places like Kashmir (enclosed in scenic beauty and political instability) extensively need to promote.  We are leaning behind when every other day world develops new trends in art and actively participate to make art more expressive and easily accessible to general public. There have been many reasons why we in Kashmir fail to acknowledge such an important aspect of human expression when we dearly need one. And one main reason that I think is responsible for this problem is how artists presented art to people. There has hardly been any artist in the valley who has taken any step to connect people with Fine Arts, no one here has ever tried to fill the gap between people and art.

A group of young artists concerned about the condition of Art in Kashmir are trying their way out to promote art in the valley.  With no Art galleries and with no interest shown by people to attend an art event, art and people have remained distant and to fill this gap the art group united as ‘ALIF chose Street Art to bring people face to face with art. “Our idea is to bring gallery to the streets. People find it worthless to attend an art event or exhibition, with no art galleries that properly promote the art the gap between fine arts and people has widened. We paint murals on the walls that people cannot ignore, we make them to interpret color patterns and images and bring art close to them.” One of the artists said, adding that, “people find it difficult to deal with art, when they see us painting in the street, on the wall they cannot ignore us. They make comments, sometimes very disturbing but their interaction with art is what matters at the end”.

Alif, consists artists mostly from Kashmir who utilize every opportunity to bring art to the people. A group of professional artists, with each member holding masters degree in fine arts from reputed institutions around the country. “We have in our team professional artists who have come from reputed art institutions around the country. We have seen the difference between the value of art in and outside valley. In Kashmir there are hardly any opportunities for artists, there are no jobs, we don’t have art as a subject in our schools and colleges overall it’s difficult for artists to survive here” Said Nadeem Mushtaq, (Artist) Adding that, “there are very little options for artists here, you either leave your home and look for opportunities outside valley or get yourself stuck in some private school where they pay you less than minimum. There is a dire need for artists to make people aware of this field and make themselves visible in every possible way. That’s why we choose street art, it directly deals with people, involvement of public is important to promote art and there is no other form of art that can make as much difference as street art.” Nadeem Mushtaq holds masters degree in Painting in which he received in 2013 from Kala Bhavan Shantiniketan , he along with many other artists who come from different institutes started this initiative of mural art in public spaces in 2014.

Painting or any form of art done in public space invokes different responses, people are free to judge you and give their feeback. “Response to street art is instant, people see you painting and they hurl their reviews whether your piece is complete or not. People from different fields pass by you and each and everyone has his/her own understanding of painting. Generally as we start a mural in any public space, initially people assume us as laborers and mock and tease us and even try to teach us how to paint. And when we are about to finish our work they begin to realize that it’s something different. People start asking us how we learnt this skill, most of them actually do not have any idea that there are colleges and universities that teach art, they are surprised when they learn that we hold degrees in the field of art. When they see a grubby wall turned into something special, they come to us, take selfies with us and with our work , exchange phone numbers and all. Overall response to our work has always been appreciating. That’s what we want, to let people know us, make ourselves visible so that art and artists can have a better future.” Said Ghazala Fatima (Artist): Ghazala completed her masters degree in Fine Arts Painting from Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi in 2014.

Most of the mural art projects are funded by Government or semi government organizations, and in recent few years Kashmir especially Srinagar has witnessed mural art on various locations. “Economically we are not in a condition to afford large scale street art projects. We have organized art workshops with students of various schools, but for street art we rely on sponsorship. Government financed art projects are best opportunity for artists like us to utilize; unfortunately the problem with government projects is that they want it done cheap. Most projects are awarded to contractors, firms or companies and to them who offer a least budget. When these firms and companies receive a project than they hire us, and you can understand how much we earn from it. Such projects should be awarded to artists directly, artists already struggle here atleast such projects could bring some hope for them.”Said Tasduq Hussain (Artist)

When asked why you agree to work in a project that you know would not benefit you much Tasaduq said, “We are compelled, we need to bring art to people, good quality art. If we refuse to work they can hire unprofessional painters who eventually ruin our image and everything we stand for. You may have seen some murals around the city, unprofessional they literally hurt us”.

Art is an essential part of human existence; humans started painting even before they learnt to talk. Art is a universal language, a form of expression broader than any medium of art.  Kashmir is an art work in itself and we must learn to recognize our artists who live and work around us in this mesmerizing yet anxious piece of art.

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