The art of Graffiti in Kashmir


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A Bansky graffiti in Lal Chowk, Srinagar, by Kashmir’s underground graffiti artists’ group, El Horiah.

By Naveed Qazi, Columnist | Srinagar, Kashmir

[G]raffiti’s are colourful products of creativity, stenciled and sprayed on walls. This inscribed artistry showcases the ruminations of injustice in various forms. It fathoms art into reality, by agitations caused within a creative mind. In Kashmir, we encounter slogans written on walls and archaic stones through coal and paint. ‘We Want Freedom’, ‘I Protest’ or ‘Azaadi’ have been reminders of enslavement in different forms, as a means to protest against the occupation. However, it cannot be called as a graffiti art in the real sense. These are plain writings on the walls and just a means of guerrilla campaigning of Kashmir’s conflict. They are not sophisticated graphic imageries. Our vale seriously needs to evolve into intellectual, societal and ideological ascensions, in order to develop this art in its real sense. Let’s learn something from expert artists of Britain, from Australia, and why shouldn’t we?

When we talk of conflict zones, graffiti carries a legacy behind art, against indignity and oppression. They reflect the wounds of war, and impute sufferings. In places like Palestine, artists have even used graffiti art as a tool for liberation struggle, ever since the intifadah of 1970’s and 1980’s. Yes, it does reflect societal troubles, but Kashmir seriously needs to transform this street art to enlightenment in various forms, through inspiring graphics – but for all this, we need a brigade of artists who can devote time to this exercise. We also need free spaces which don’t offend the habitants or public sentiment in general.

In Middle East, Egypt emerged as a street art capital in 2011, according to New York Times, with motifs calling an end to the Mubarak regime. The street art from Yemen, Egypt, Libya has also got popularity, which was eventually showcased in Madrid’s Casa Arabe recently. These developments signify strong anarchist elements in street art in recent times. In Kashmir, this trend has just recently started. A previous report on a popular online magazine, had reported on some upcoming graffiti artist group, El-Horiah. These band of boys have started the exercise on similar lines, by drawing popular street art images, like of Bansky – a man throwing flowers from hands instead of stones and some other amateur expressions, inspired from the recent stir in Arab lands. These artistries do include humanist and tolerant forms of expression from our society, but we still have a long way to go. Personally, when I used to travel in trains in Britain, or walk the streets near my tenancy, some artwork used to awe struck me due to the competence in imagination – the stroke of colours, its variance, the fusion, the lustre, the calligraphy finally climaxing into beautiful poetic messages, all used to retrospect my thinking back to my homeland. I cherished something on similar lines in my vale, not just about freedom, but also about a reflection of an intellectual renaissance around the alleys of Srinagar and beyond.

If Graffiti art needs to evolve in Kashmir, we need to merge it with our cultural history, language, new influences and hobbies. We have our own heritage, and for that we need to fecund our intellect. Graffiti art can be revolutionary as well, as a form of cultural evolution. The tradition was given a pulse in 1920’s by Mao Zedong himself, the emancipator of China, who painted the longest piece of graffiti at that time, of over 4000 characters long, criticizing teachers and the state of Chinese society at that time.

Marxism and revolutionary slogans have a history of cordial noetic impulses. They represent valours of change against class degeneration of the poor, and against the decrees of the regnant elite. In Kashmir, feudalism and subjugation of farmers was a cause which leaders like Sheikh Abdullah, Maqbool Butt and others crusaded against in their leadership, writings and speeches. Today, these liberated farmers sing the laurels of their harvest in villages. Kashmiri people have their own idioms and phrases, the moral sayings, which can have a potential to reform this generation, back to the cultural epochs in these times. All these traditions can be transformed into art. For that, our newer generation needs not only to learn from the past, but also needs to implement brilliant creativity for the genesis of this movement.

[pullquote]Marxism and revolutionary slogans have a history of cordial noetic impulses. They represent valours of change against class degeneration of the poor, and against the decrees of the regnant elite.[/pullquote]Let’s talk about the famous ‘Murals of Ireland’- the wall-paintings are country’s legacy of the past political turmoil. Tourists all over the world assemble in Belfast every year and other cities to experience the past reactions against para – militarism and societal discord. Ireland is regarded as a heritage of conflict and so is Kashmir. The only difference is that we don’t have world renowned revolutionary art on streets.

In Tunisia, many graffiti artists have even drawn verses of the Quran on the walls. El-Seed, a French Tunisian artist used graffiti art to fight religious extremism during the times of revolution. Kashmir, which has a history of Islam that propagated humanity and tolerance at various stages, can also make similar engagements. Old folklores of Kashmir, the sayings of medieval saints are still committed to memory in the minds of our older generation. Artists can also use quotes from Islamic history, from religious scholars, or stanzas of European or Arab poets etc., that can be arranged inside the graffiti art, but that art should invoke praise from the society, due to the nature of its sheer brilliance. Mere amateur paintings can no way attract attention like the Murals in Ireland. Our generation can tap this talent through practice, through research or just recognising the passion for spraying professional graffiti art.

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