By Sahana Maddali
An old black board with words written in colourful chalk is propped against the white gate of the little white empty house on Bengaluru’s High Street in Cooke Town. The atmosphere of the quaint house is in stark contrast to the art work displayed there. The political cartoons of 'Laughing in Kashmir' and the papier-mache art of 'Bound Spaces' are like a slap in the face.
Organized as a part of a series of talks and discussions about life in Kashmir called Habour: Port of Kashmir, the exhibition features the cartoons of Mir Suhail, and the works of artist and advocate Mahum Shabir.
Mir Suhail is a political cartoonist whose satire on crisis-ridden Kashmir is informed by the grimness of the times he lives in. As he sat on the little stone bench in the garden laid bare by the summer heat, he said, “My cartoons have a dark humour. You won't really laugh. You will understand what goes on there.”
The plain white walls of the venue showcased up to 40 slap-in-the-face cartoons. One showed the Indo-Pak talks between the top leaders of the two countries as a house of cards, and the leaders themselves having fans for heads. Another titled “Diwali in Kashmir” showed bullets raining down upon people. Mir Suhail’s art is simple, yet powerful.
“I used to make cartoons where you could laugh. But how much can you laugh when people are dying? I use dark humour because the situation in Kashmir is dark,” says Mir, on the title of his exhibition - ‘Laughing in Kashmir'.
“I feel that unity and freedom of speech are being finished,” he said. “For example take saffronization,” he said while explaining one of his cartoons. “You can see in the cartoon that a man has taken a flag (the Indian flag) which had unity: three colours representing different communities. Every colour has a meaning, but he's painting it all into one colour, orange. If you think of it in terms of religion, green is for Muslims, white for Christians and orange for Sikhs and Hindus. Now everything is becoming saffron.”
Although there were apprehensions that the exhibition would be disrupted, Mir however said he was not afraid. “I am living in a high militarized area in an area where people have guns. That's why I'm here. Right now I'm 26, I've been drawing political cartoons for ten years.”
“I don't have any favorite cartoons, because the situations in Kashmir are not my favorite. They are painful, and I want to counter them. All my cartoons have been made from pain,” he said echoing the philosophy of his work.
In a smaller room, artist Mahum Shabir's works featured under the title 'Bound Spaces', sit enchantingly boxed in glass cases. She has printed legal documents of the Handwara case on papier-mache and decorated them with vibrant paint. All names in the documents have been blotted neatly with gold paint. They look like the old pages of a child’s diary, but hold heavy memories of the case. In April, a minor girl had alleged that she had been molested by Army men.
“My legal work informs what I do,” said Mahum when asked how she chose that subject as one of her works.
“Somehow events that unfold in Kashmir are not considered to be exceptional. They are treated as everyday affairs. People usually only show interest in Kashmiri objects like shawls, but don't care about the people or the violence,” she said. “And the Handwara case really got me thinking,” she added.
“The break between this 'unexceptional violence' and famous Kashmiri objects made me want to bridge them. I have also done similar prints on Kashmiri shawls before,” she said, referring to the online shawl business called Crafted in Kashmir that she runs with Mir Suhail. In the shawls they produce, they use contemporary motifs of the violence around them.
The exhibition opened on May 27 and will be on display until May 29, culminating with a discussion between the artists and theatre person Tanveer Ajsi. Printed postcards with the artwork of the duo can be purchased at the venue.