Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Kashmir, the Paintbrush Becomes an Alternative Tool for Protest

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Kashmir, the Paintbrush Becomes an Alternative Tool for Protest

Article excerpt

Masood Hussain fondly remembers the 1970s and '80s in his native Kashmir - a place that was peaceful and verdant, where the now 63- year-old artist could interact with visiting artists from around the world and paint landscapes.

For Khytul Abyad, such an artist's paradise seems an elusive dream. Born in 1993, the 23-year-old artist watched as Kashmir's beauty was overshadowed by political crackdowns, torture, Army bunkers on every street, and long waits in traffic as Army convoys passed by. For her, growing up in Kashmir mainly meant negotiating the ongoing conflict between Kashmiris opposed to India's occupation of their land.

Mr. Hussain and Ms. Abyad are working to document the conflict they have seen explode around them this summer, as tensions over India's occupation of Kashmir soared after the killing of the popular militant rebel leader Burhan Muzaffar Wani.

For both of them, Kashmir's brutal history has become the canvas, their art their channel of dissent, protest, frustration, and hope. And they see others choosing the same path.

"In [the] 2008, 2010, and 2016 uprising, we've been seeing new artists emerging, either as musicians, rappers, poets, or painters," says Abyad.

"Being in a curfew for months, not being able to go out of home ... this is the perfect time for art to emerge because there's so much going on inside and the frustration becomes internal, rather than external," she adds.

Kashmir has been a contested area of South Asia since the partition of British India in 1947. The region is claimed by both India and Pakistan; the Indian-controlled part has periodically been convulsed by protests.

This summer saw some of the worst conflict since 2010. Massive numbers have turned out in public demonstrations against often oppressive Indian rule and endorsement of a new age of militancy. Some 85 civilians have been killed, and at least 11,000 injured, hundreds of them by pellet guns, weapons that have become controversial symbols of this summer's turmoil for the serious eye injuries they have inflicted.

Schools and commercial establishments have been periodically closed under curfews, and the internet cut off in an effort to prevent protests. Thousands of protesters have also been arrested in the ongoing crackdown, including Abyad's older brother, who was detained on July 8 and continues to be held in a police station.

Two viewsAbyad and Hussain's perspectives are shaped by their very different experiences: While Hussain knew Kashmir before the armed rebellion started in 1988, Abyad was just 18 months old when unknown gunmen assassinated her father, Mirwaiz Qazi Nissar, a popular pro-freedom leader and a Muslim cleric. As she grew older, words like azaadi (Freedom) and tehreek (movement) became familiar rallying cries.

It was during the 2008 unrest that Abyad took up her paintbrush in protest. Nearly 80 people were shot dead and many injured in the uprising sparked by government land being transferred to a Hindu shrine board, where the board wanted to construct concrete structures.

"I had never seen so much anger in people," says Abyad, who has exhibited her work publicly and is participating in upcoming exhibitions and biennales. "It was tehreek, I thought. I saw people being beaten up inhumanely. I saw people who weren't ready to go home even after teargas shells were fired at them, people who wouldn't stop shouting 'We want freedom' until police would take them away."

Like everyone, Abyad also experienced intense fear that she hadn't known before. "This fear turned into sadness and brought anger," she says.

When she couldn't go out and throw stones at the soldiers, it was art that became her outlet. …

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