An exhibition in Srinagar hopes to heal fractured Valley and revive its forgotten culture and art

More than 1,100 people turned up to see an art show titled Concourse in Srinagar, on its opening — which happened to be just four days after Shujaat Bukhari was killed in broad daylight in a city now known mainly for its political volatility. The Valley, at one time, had an uninterrupted flow of art, music and literature, that made its culture space thrive and evolve; it is this culture that the organisers of Concourse are trying to revive.

True to the meaning of "concourse", the exhibition aimed at filling the void of the last few decades in the art space by an act of bringing together 60 artists from the Valley. Most of these artists had left the Valley, before or around 1990, during the mass exodus of the Pandits. The political turmoil interrupted the cultural growth of the Valley. Way back in 1951, Sikh, Pundit and Muslim Kashmiri artists — about 24 of them — had held a group show at the iconic Hotel Reviera. Thereafter, there was a long lull. “The curatorial objective was built around that event from 1951, around the artists whose ideas wove the fabric of Kashmir,” says Syed Mujtaba Rizvi, a young artist and co-curator of the show.

The work of identifying Kashmiri artists settled across the globe began in February. A tour of 14 cities across India produced several leads. All the artists were keen to return to the Valley, without a trace of doubt or reservation. A few came from Lahore, Dubai and London. The oldest artist participating in this group show is Ratan Parimoo, 90, a painter and art historian from Baroda. The youngest, Mamon (23) and Numer Kazi (21), are art students. The age span of the participating artists turns this exhibition into a study in changing styles, approaches and responses to the socio-political stimulus of the volatile times.

From the Concourse exhibition at Srinagar

From the Concourse exhibition at Srinagar

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Close to 120 art works — specifically curated for the theme — including sculptures, canvases, photographs and relief works merge with contemporary art practices in the oldest silk factory of the Valley, built in 1917. The 101-year-old building of the Silk Factory Solina, in Rambagh, Srinagar, resonates with the history of the Valley and of the artists, who were forced to migrate from their homeland. Solina lay abandoned for decades. The bridging of the gap — of the time and cultural void, the coming together of the artists — is in a way, a revival of sorts for the iconic building. The art works and the space, both, conceptualise the idea of a new beginning. For senior artists like AK Raina, whose canvas expressed the pain and loss of a forced exile for decades, there was a feeling of “bitterness”, but there was also a new merging, a melting, that the exiled artists had missed and desired.

Curator Veer Munshi, whose art practice has expressed the theme of exile across genres, is showing his work for the first time in the Valley in decades. His interactive, participatory installation creates a moving spiral, made of the old machine parts of the silk factory. The spiral moves with threads, with a bird in the centre. Another installation has a shikara , suspended from the ceiling, turned upside down. In Rizvi’s installation, light incorporates the materials found in and around the silk factory space. The range and quality of the works on display makes all the risks the organisers and the 60-odd artists took for this endeavour of creating a space for harmony, worthwhile.

A wall is dedicated to the memory of the iconic artists of the Valley, with their names and pictures displayed. Concourse turns out to be not just a merging of artists and their creative ideas, the people of the Valley too have reciprocated with their gestures of hospitality and kindness. The art residency space was provided free of cost for the entire duration, for all 60 artists, by a leading businessman. The visiting artists were taken to their lost homes and temples by drivers who refused to take money from the “neighbours we lost”. The response to the exhibition is encouraging for organisers Kashmir Art Quest, who are trying to revive the lost cultural space in the Valley — a place that had the honour of hosting the first All India Painters Camp in 1961.

Concourse ends on 24 June.


Updated Date: Jun 23, 2018 12:59 PM

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