Taking inspiration from Palestinian, Tunisian, Egyptian, Bahraini, Syrian graffiti artists, the underground graffiti artists group, El-Horiah, of Kashmir has named itself after El-seed, a Tunisian graffiti artist who writes graff in Arabic. Horiah is an Arabic word for freedom in which the group says they believe in. They are a few young boys in their late teens and early 20s who have been making graffiti on the streets of Kashmir. From walls in the outskirts of Srinagar to the congested business hub Lal Chowk, the group has been sending messages for people to read and understand. One of the group members, a young boy, whom I met a few months ago, has today evolved to a level where he thinks politically before making any art work. The graffiti started appearing in Kashmir, during the 2008 mass uprising and since then the resistance of Kashmiris has come up in every field of art.
Talking to me after a few months now, he says graffiti is to make them remember that being rebel is in our genes. “So, this graffiti is another milestone in the odyssey of our struggle.” The group has started following the footsteps of a famous graffiti artist, Bansky, and are drawing the famous sketch of a man throwing flowers, which he says is to show “a stone thrower is throwing flowers instead of stones” in the context of Kashmir. He has done the graffito, Intifada on The Bund and many more, evading being seen on spot or identified, so far. Interviewed by Fahad Shah
What inspires you to do graffiti?
Well it is more exciting, rebellious and dangerous. Dangerous things are most exciting things but soon when you are aware about your environment, what is happening, you give a new vision to the new controversy happening at that time. Inspiration, what I could see is when you do graffiti; it inspires you to do more. You think you are bringing a change in the society, in yourself and in your environment. We have good writers, intellectuals, photographers etc who tell the miseries, suffered by the nation [Kashmir] to world but our nation didn’t witness anyone on this front i.e. graffiti.
So, I thought to choose it so that it will seem that dream and emotions are not wiped away by their brutalities and tragedies. It is to make them remember that being rebel is in our genes. So, this graffiti is another milestone in the odyssey of our struggle.
Where did you learn graffiti and do you follow Palestinian artists?
Our crew and I learned graffiti here in Kashmir by ourselves. Yes, we do follow Palestinian graffiti artists. They are our inspiration. Well painting the Bund [in Srinagar] was inspired idea from Gaza Strip graffiti. There are many graffiti artists in Palestine who aim to tell their stories, their identity and their life through art. We try to make the same change. Palestine is a strong nation which has been root of struggle and resistance. People who live there are strong even during hardships.
So, artists in Palestine are our main inspiration. EL-seed, a Tunisian graffiti artist, after whom our crew is named, has revolutionized graffiti art and provided us necessary information and helped us. People like him, Palestinian graffiti artists pull the hope up when you have no hope. Middle East artists are revolutionizing graffiti, Egyptian, Bahraini, Syrian graffiti artists are like Robin Hood’s of their places. Before Egypt revolution graffiti wasn’t popular but during revolution it gained more popularity among the people and all over the world.
How difficult is it to make graffiti in Srinagar, a busy hub?
Srinagar is a highly under surveillance area, so finding a place to make a graffiti is very tough. People usually don’t understand what it is. Some people do like it and some don’t. Though, decision to choose a site is taken by the crew. Difficulties are there but you have to be equally strong enough to face and cope up with the situations.
You were thinking of a campaign. What was the campaign about?
Campaign has started from the day we started to make tags. It is about to make social and political massages. What our nation, Kashmir, is suffering from, what has drenched it in this slavery. Also what are the ways to make it to witness dawn of freedom is all in the campaign. The campaign is all about ourselves, mainly our society which is not united. It is divided and people are isolated from each other. If human could had lived isolated since civilization then survival had been much easier, but it ain’t. Millions of people walk the same way but don’t realize whether that way is right or not. Some body has to make the change and initiative must be ours.
One of your graffiti is “PSA Zone”. Why did you choose this particular law?
Sorry we would not like to answer this question.
Tell us about that graffiti in which the man has flowers in his hand. What is its significance in relation to Kashmir?
Flower thrower of Banksy, as we admire him and we came through his art work, flower thrower. Kashmir needed flower thrower. It shows a stone thrower is throwing flowers instead of stones. There is too much violence and hate in the air why not to try love, offer enemies some love that may stabilize the situation. In Kashmir, environment is violent, nobody knows here what is next, how is next day going to be, so flower thrower is symbol of love to the hateful environment. Love in the air, thanks to Banksy.
Did you ever receive any threats or your real name went public?
We haven’t received any but threats are always there. Graffiti is taken as an offense and as vandalism so police won’t think for a second who did it. At that time you are destroying the public property. There is always threat if any one complains or does anything which might put you in trouble.
How much large is the circle of graffiti artists?
Circle of graffiti artists is not big enough . As you see there are only a few artists who appear on the streets but others who might want to join fear because of security reasons. When someone looks at a graffiti tag, he/she gets puzzled and it looks very complicated to him/her. They think that it is very difficult for them to do such work. Some might take it as costly process like buying some cans then spraying on the walls. The basic problem is there is no encouragement when any one tries to do something. People kill other’s dreams through criticism. Well every one must think about it.
What graffiti are you planning now?
More satirical to the society, more controversial and more radical. We are looking up for murals, portraits and stencils of course. I write the truth and this truth has always been like iron filling for them which are hard to swallow and chew. But still we will not stop as we believe silence is crime and betrayal. We are planning more satirical graffiti. Well satires about society, economic inequality, poor political governance, poor developmental issues and everything that we must change. Everything a common man faces. Capitalism is the main target which is killing the economy; actually crushing the economy. There is no change when there are no people involved. So that’s why we convey our best to the society that to remove the blind folds and walk freely but alas we were born divided. Perhaps, graffiti won’t effect the movement or the people but it definitely shows that there is hope and hope is resistance. Well, watch your walls up.
Photographs: El Horiah group.