Imagine a huge blank canvas. A white surface that is ready to evoke and to portray, to accept on it every color, every brush or stroke, to depict every experience, no matter how intense or timid, no matter how vivid or bleary. Like life itself. Imagine this canvas reaching every corner of the world. Imagine it gathering different voices, different ideas, but the same need, same urgent, same hope. Now imagine this canvas, returning again from where it started carrying this time hundreds of visions and revisions and showing us again and again one demand: freedom of speech and thought, freedom of self-determination and independence.
No matter how difficult is for us to imagine this, Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, the young and charismatic Managing Director of Kashmir Art Quest who is at the same time himself a talented artist, is making it a reality. A 33 ft. x 5 ft. canvas will be traveling the world for more than one year starting its journey in Srinagar on the 14 April 2014. “Keep the canvas rolling” is one of the most innovative artistic projects of our days. For the first time nearly 200 artists from 18 cities in 12 different countries all over the world will be brought together so as to create a single and unique artwork that will later become a permanent public art installation displayed at ZabarwanPark, Srinagar.
Meaning always appears as the effect of a play between images and shapes. The white of the canvas is thus charged with meaning; more than this, it is the precondition for any meaning to emerge. But the meaning of the “rolling” canvas will remain under the process of becoming. Nothing can be presupposed. Nothing can be prejudged before the final outcome. Each artist can make the big difference by giving a personal nuance. The signification so becomes possible and visible only when each and specific element comes in relation to something other than itself. And this is exactly where the beauty of this specific project lies; the final meaning, the final artwork itself will be controversial and definitely unpredictable.
The canvas, hence will work as a surface or screen on which Kashmiri artists will have the chance to build bridges of communication and develop a complex network for prolific dialogues and discourses with other international contemporary artists. In this way, the final art piece will take the form of a visual narrative about Kashmir and its culture. However, artworks are never only just about their creators. The audience remains the final receiver and producer of the meaning; it’s the other pole of the communication system. From China, Pakistan and India to Brazil, the United States and South Africa, this project will give the opportunity to people that come from a different cultural, social, political or even educational background to come in contact with Kashmir, meet with its peculiar culture and apprehend its current turbulent social and political reality.
Even if we live in the information age, it’s ironic how less we know about things that take place around us. And it’s even more discouraging to remain ignorant either because of media tricks and communication games or worse because we have the illusion that what happens on the other side of the planet will never affect us. Can then art offer the space for dialogue and knowledge? I have to admit that in my case the artworks of Rizvi – whom I had the chance to meet through Goldsmiths College, University of London – made me curious and interested in understanding the complex situation of Kashmir and every other oppressed land.
It is said that the ideal purpose of art is not to present just the appearance of things, but rather than this to draw out their deeper significance. “Keep the canvas rolling” is not only an artistic project that will manage to introduce Kashmir to an international audience for just touristic reasons. Actually, it is something more than this. This huge canvas will function as windows through which more and more people will take a glance over the current situation of Kashmir. Pain is altered into something that people can connect to, into something that shows how art can change – or highlight the need for change – of situations in a conflict zone. The “rolling” canvas will become a scream for all the urgent shifts and pivotal things that are yet to come, a symbol for every human being that lives under oppression.
Dimitra Gkitsa is a curator and writer. Currently she is studying at Goldsmiths College, University of London.