Young Cartoonist Seeks To Revive Kashmir’s Artistic Heritage


By Sarju Kaul | Age Correspondent

Malik Sajad

Kashmiri cartoonist and artist Malik Sajad, who started working as political cartoonist for Great Kashmir newspaper in Srinagar since he was 14 years old, is keen to revive the lost forms of art and culture of the Valley.

The 24-year-old, with the face of a teenager, is studying in London for his masters’ degree in image and communication at the prestigious Goldsmiths College, where Indian graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee was a student earlier. Sajjad graduated from Institute of Music and Fine Art in Srinagar.

The cartoonist, who is working on a graphic novel on the life in Kashmir, had exhibited his cartoons and an installation, called Endangered Species, during the Second South Asian Literature Festival in London in October. The black and white cartoons and installations depict the reality of life for young Kashmir through a human with the head of Hangul, an endangered deer found only in Kashmir, who is just a witness to the life, without speaking.

The influence of classic graphic novel Maus, by Art Speigelman, is heavy on Sajad’s work and he credits Kashmiri writer and journalist Basharat Peer for mentoring him and helping widen his artistic horizons by buying him books and graphic novels. He also credits Kashmiri writer and filmmaker Abir Bazaz with inspiring him intellectually.

Sajjad, son of an embroidery designer, took to art very early in childhood, initially just to emulate his father. However, his skill of drawing caricatures soon pushed him towards contributing drawings and cartoons for the children’s pages in the local newspapers. He explains the jump from the children’s page to the front page as a political cartoonist by pointing out that the children in Kashmir become politicised at a very young age due to the circumstances in the region. “I still work for the newspaper, and draw the cartons every day. Drawing cartoons is a routine for me as regular as breathing,” says Sajad, who is studying in London on the Inlaks Scholarship.

“For young people born in the late 1980s, Kashmir has always been the area full of the Army camps, burnt down cinema halls, curfews and restrictions on normal life. Life has always been like that, but the Kashmiri language and all the cultural aspects of life are fading,” says the young cartoonist, who was born in 1987.

“People know about Kashmir only through the news stories. Violence is what defines us now for others,” he says, adding that the experiences of young Kashmiris, who are routinely viewed as “terrorists” in the rest of India, are harrowing. Sajad, with like-minded Kashmiri youth, now wants to revive and update local art and cultural forms, which are rapidly fading away in Kashmir. Artists have always taken the lead in helping repair the cultural and religious harmony in Kashmir, says Sajad, using the example of poet and singer TibbetBakal and adds that he wants to revive art and cultural heritage of Kashmir to be able to do that once again. The long and arduous period of militancy has led to a marked decline in local art forms like Baand Pathar, a humorous, poetical and satirical street drama about contemporary issues, and story-telling, explains Sajad, and they have become irrelevant, especially for young Kashmiris.

“We are losing the bridge that connected us to our past, our rich past. The bridge between the earlier generations and our generations to pass on the cultural heritage is crumbling now. My generation has never seen or experienced a normal life, but we don’t realise the loss. For us, this is the reality, we know of no other reality.”

“I want to revive the artistic heritage, the cultural heritage, that my generation has lost touch with,” says Sajad, who has exhibited his art work and installations in many cities in India.

“Young Kashmiris have a voice with the new media like blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They can now express their reality,” says Sajad, who is keen to fully explore cartooning and animation once his graphic novel is finished.

His work as a cartoonist, however, has influenced him in using just black ink, instead of colours in his artistic work. “When I use colour, I feel it confines my imagination and that of the reader,” he says. Sajad, the youngest sibling in his family, is impressed by the cultural vitality of London and wants recreate that in Srinagar. He has also documented the neglect and destruction of historic architecture and the wooden bridges on the Jhelum river in photographs and paintings.

Source: The Asian Age

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