Kashmir In Watercolor

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Thanks to India Ink for this story:

Four years ago, Masood Hussain, one of Kashmir’s most renowned artists, worked on a series of watercolors of places, people and activities in and around his city, Srinagar. Imbued with realistic touches, alive with filigree details, and emitting a translucence bequeathed by the medium in the hands of a master, the series “Transparent Strokes” was snapped up by visitors to the city.

Many among them were Kashmiris – Hindus and Muslims — from the United States and Britain who wanted to carry a piece of art with them as a precious, bittersweet link to a home that now signified a lost world.

The artist began to upload the images of those watercolors on Facebook to share them with his Kashmiris across the world and create a forum for friends and strangers to connect and reconnect with each other and with their shared cultural roots.

For, like the lengthening shadows of evening, “distances between people have increased in more than two decades of political turmoil,” says the 60-year-old artist. The separatist insurgency, the oppressive counter-insurgency and militarization of armed forces, the tragic exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, and the claustrophobic existence of the ordinary Kashmiri Muslim caught in the crossfire of intractable stances for the past two decades have left their mark on every Kashmiri with a shattering intensity.

Mr. Hussain has courageously chronicled everyday events of that strife-torn period in luminous works mirroring the human predicament beyond the brutal intransigence of politics.

The Facebook experiment triggered emotions in a society under siege as Mr. Hussain continued adding images of Kashmir to the virtual world. An ongoing endeavor, it dares to hope for an affirmation of connectedness, however tremulous.

The very first image that Mr. Hussain had uploaded was of a roofless boat and boatman on a frozen Dal Lake. He added around 200 more images. His instinct was proven right; the images set off long conversations about shared and separate memories of Kashmir.

Visitors to Mr. Hussain’s online gallery could almost inhale the crisp air of winter. They exclaimed at the sight of familiar landmarks in the older, downtown area of Srinagar, regal gardens, bazaars, shrines, temples, mosques of princes, vegetable sellers at Dal Lake, semi-nomadic Gujjar women, bunches of red chilies hanging along the facade of a mud house in a village. Each line, hue, shade and negative space became for that moment a real space in Kashmir the visitors had stepped into.

“I received a lot of response, especially from Kashmiri Pandits. They remembered their roots, recognized places linked to their childhood, their localities, their homes, their neighbors. Several mentioned that their houses had been burned. Many took to expressing their feelings in poetry,” said Mr. Hussain. “Somewhere along the way they discovered long-lost friends and also made new ones,” he added.

Among Mr. Hussain’s new friends is Autar Mota, a Kashmiri Pandit, who works at a bank in Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Mr. Mota shares Mr. Hussain’s work with a wide circle of Facebook friends, layering his comments with historical, cultural and literary references. He traveled around 300 kilometers from Jammu to Srinagar to meet his artist friend in Srinagar. “There are other regulars, too,” Mr. Hussain adds.

The online images, as well as the conversations built around them, seem to have created a mini cultural commons where, upon each discovery, new maps of belonging and longing; of presence and absence; of jagged ruptures and tentative gestures are created on a day-to-day basis.

The realistic aspect of the images sets down the physical lay of the land, as it were, trapped in a present of calcified political stances, with the common people caught between them. It is the translucence of the images which provides the viewer a way to reclaim even momentarily a childhood sky or fun-filled camaraderie from the actual, unyielding present. And those memories become artifacts of a past with the potential to imagine a new kind of cultural sharing.

Read the whole post here.

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