‘People outside believe whatever is shown about Kashmir on TV’

  • Shafaq Shah
  • Publish Date: Sep 13 2017 9:08PM
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  • Updated Date: Sep 13 2017 9:08PM
‘People outside believe whatever is shown about Kashmir on TV’

Rollie Mukhrejee, a Baroda-Gujarat based artist is currently exhibiting her first solo painting show  on Kashmir titled ‘To Stories Rumoured in Branches’ at the Indo-Kashmir Complex in Nawabazar, Srinagar, which is on display till September 10. Rollie uses landscape in her artworks as a camouflage, depicting death, guns, bullets, skeletons, torture and enforced disappearances, which tell the many stories of Kashmiris trapped in a beautiful prison.

In an Interview with Shafaq Shah, Rollie Mukhrejee talks about the difficulties she faces in trying to depict the many realities of Kashmir and Kashmiris through her artworks. 

     

EXCERPTS 

This is your first visit to Kashmir and you’ve been doing Kashmir related artworks over the past several years now. How difficult is it for an artist like you, who doesn’t belong to Kashmir, to paint the reality of Kashmir and its people?

In 1990s, when I was Kid, I would meet Kashmiri people who would sell shawls and carpets outside, and then they would tell us how forces are torturing and Killing Kashmiris. Those memories stayed with me as I grew up. Though I didn’t understand much about the conflict in Kashmir, but their words would make me believe that something bad is happening here.

After completing my graduation in fine arts, but I never thought I will make an art piece on Kashmir. But soon after completing my masters, there was one talk about Kashmir and the growing terrorism. I remembered the anecdotes of torture and suppression shared by the Kashmiri men who would visit our house. I planned to do a work, which was titled ‘Will O the Wisp’ in 2007. It talks about the cold blooded hegemonic state apparatus which reiterates and ruin our lives to nothingness. Yet it fails to suppress people.

Yes, painting the reality of Kashmir has been difficult. I sometimes feel scared that people should not burn my studio, because majority of the people belong to Hindu Class. And also when I put my exhibits on social networking sites, people comment very weird things – call me anti-national, abuse me, but it doesn’t affect me.

My Facebook account was blocked earlier because I’d written a post about the man who was used as human shield, and immediately after that my account was blocked. But despite that I am here (in Kashmir) and exhibiting my art pieces on half-windows and unmarked graves. 

Your artworks go against the state narrative about Kashmir. You have made many paintings in which you depict the pain and endless search of mothers, for example, whose sons have been subjected to enforced disappearances by the government forces...

 I don’t follow the state narrative and I don’t watch television debates. When you work for others or with others, you have to have certain level of trust. You have to believe what they are saying because they are experiencing it. But the mainstream media is creating a disbelief, and phobia among people outside about Kashmir. They have made victims voiceless.

In an earlier interview you’ve said, “When I Show my exhibits on Kashmir to people in India, they get annoyed and ask me the reason for not creating an art piece, despite being a Hindu, about Kashmiri Pandits.” What do you think is the reason that people react in this manner to your artworks on Kashmir?

Because they want to just talk about polarizing politics and divisiveness that is the basic core of being Hindu. I have made three pieces on the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits. But I do encounter these comments, ‘that I am a shameless Hindu, who doesn’t write or depict the pain of Kashmir Pandits through her art’, and when I tell them about history, that makes them angry.

 

How challenging is it for an artist like you to depict the condition of people in a conflict affected place like Kashmir?

You have to know people physiology when you have to paint them and you have to know the pain and anguish of half widows and mothers who are still waiting for their husbands or sons.

 When children were killed in Gaza and Syria, I was crying and thinking about my own child. What if it would have happened with us? I cried in the studio when I read about Afzal Guru and his hanging. It drains you emotionally when you have to depict the pain of people living in conflict. I break down many times when I create art pieces on people killed in conflict.

 

You also do group and solo art shows in India and abroad. How well informed you think people outside are about the conflict and the plight of people living in Kashmir?

People are not much informed. Kolkatta is the only place where I found the audience a bit informed about the conflict in Kashmir because they run a study circle there every year, and Kashmiri writers come there and conduct workshops.

I had to tell people what has happened in Dardpora or Sopore, for example. They don’t have the basic information about Kashmir. Whatever news they see on television about Kashmir, they believe that.  

 

Since you had not visited Kashmir earlier, what helped you to make these intimate art pieces on Kashmir and Kashmiris affected by decades of conflict?

Since the past six years I have been consistently reading about what’s happening in Kashmir. I was reading the work of Kashmiri writers and poets, and I also made Kashmiri friends on Facebook and read whatever they shared. These writings gradually gave me an insight into the way I imagined this place and its people. By reading these books, poems and writings, I started questioning the Indian narration of the history of Kashmir. How the demand of Kashmiris for self-determination is declared as baseless and everything is distorted and there is an avoidance to recognize their national aspirations. Even today I read everything that’s written about Kashmir.

 

This is your first exhibition of artworks in Kashmir. How has been the response of people?  

We received a good response from people. They came here and shared their stories of oppression. There are so many narratives that I did not know about, but deep down I am happy that I have drawn exactly what people here shared with me.