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Modern art in Kashmir reflects contemporary realities

Saturday January 08, 2011 07:01:49 PM, Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS

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New Delhi: The modern art movement in Jammu and Kashmir is once again on the move after a period of stagnation during the years of insurgency. The new artistic interpretations emerging from the troubled state speak of contemporary social realities like terrorism, youth unrest, nostalgia among migrants and the changing lifestyle in the valley.

An exhibition of Modern and Contemporary Art from Kashmir featuring works by 24 artists at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) here has brought to light the new movement in contemporary art in Jammu and Kashmir - the cradle of India's historic Pahadi miniature art traditions.

Artists like Masood Hussain, Shafi Chaman, Arshad Sualeh and Naushad Gayoor speak of the trauma brought by the orgy of blood and terror in the state.

Masood Hussain, a teacher at the J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Language, portrays the isolation of individuals, the sagas of lonely deaths with a canvas of severed human heads, while artist Gokul Dambi evokes the longing of Hindu migrants to return to the Kashmir Valley with a bridge linking mind space to his wooded homeland in Srinagar.

"Jammu and Kashmir has a very vibrant contemporary and modern art movement and the J&K academy is still the hub," president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations Karan Singh told IANS.

"The growth of modern art in the state can be traced back to 50 years with pioneers like G.R. Santosh and Kishori Kaul," said Karan Singh, who is the son of erstwhile Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh.

Santosh took Kashmiri contemporary art to the globe in the 1950s. Dina Nath Walli is another pioneer who captured the sights of everyday Kashmir in water colours.

Karan Singh, a Rajya Sabha MP, was one of the pioneers who helped steer the course of modern art in the state with the creation of the J&K academy in 1958 during his tenure as the "sadre-e-riasat" - the head of state.

The academy, which now has branches in summer capital Srinagar and Jammu, trains young artists in painting, sculpture and applied or commercial art.

"But the culture galleries and exhibitions are yet to catch on in the state," the ICCR president said.

Karan Singh's family also owns the private Amar Mahal Museum in the state, built by Raja Amar Singh in 1890.

"The museum has a world famous collection of Kangra paintings from Himachal Pradesh," he said. A rich repository of ancient and contemporary art, the palace with French colonial style architecture is maintained by the Hari-Tara Trust.

The Durbar Hall of the museum has a rich collection of sculptures, paintings and art work collected during the Dogra reign, including a 120-kg gold throne built by Hari Singh.

"Jammu is home to ancient Pahadi art like the Basholi school of painting and the Guler school belonging to the Dogri traditions. Ladakh is known for its exquisite Buddhist art," Singh said.

The 300-year-old Basholi school of devotional Pahadi miniature painting traces its origin to the Basholi region of Kashmir.

According Kamal Sharma, a scholar of art history from the J&K academy, young artists in the valley are making installations, sculptures and experimenting with mixed and new media.

"But absence of art in school curriculum prevented the spread of awareness about the subject. For instance, modern and contemporary art has not yet made wide inroads into the artistic space in Ladakh. The scene is dominated by religious Buddhist art. But Ladakh is a popular venue for art camps," Sharma told IANS.

Another problem was "the influx of students from other states to the academy".

"As we do not draw the requisite number of students every year, students from outside the state fill the seats. We spend Rs.500,000 on an average to train each artist," he said. The academy hosts an annual exhibition in the capital every year.

Ghulam Mohiuddin of the Srinagar chapter of the J&K academy, also the in-charge of the ICCR exposition, said: "Srinagar has no gallery. It is difficult for artists to exhibit their work and make a living from art. Most of them either move out of the state or work elsewhere if they do not get a job at the academy."

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at 







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