Lending Colour, Culture to Srinagar

  • Aditya Sinha
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2016 12:49PM
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  • Updated Date: Feb 12 2016 6:59PM
Lending Colour, Culture to Srinagar

Engrossed in their work and unmindful of what the passersby say, six youngsters draw lines and carefully fill them with colours on the walls of the busy Hyderpora flyover in the city outskirts.
Cars, buses and auto-rickshaws are whizzing past the busy junction. The group is delicately adorning the pillars of Hyderpora flyover with large wall paintings. These first of its kind artworks are aimed at “beautifying the city” and to evoke a “cultural memory.” The painting works, commissioned by the newly appointed Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Commissioner, Tufail Matoo, were started in the last week of April. Six artists from the Institute of Music and Fine Arts have been hired by a senior Kashmiri water-colour artist Masood Hussain to brighten up the pillars with paintings.
The artists have so far completed three wall-paintings. Each canvas, about 12.5 X 19.8 feet, was roughly completed in six days. Although the theme has been strictly limited to culture and heritage, every painting has a story to narrate. On one pillar is a powerful recreation of a traditional house; there is a woman and a kid near the porch. Cow and earthen pot too get their bit of share on the canvas depicting rural life. Another painting shows a couple basking in the sun on the porch. If these two paintings evoke an outdoor feel, the third painting gives a peek into the kitchen interior where two young ladies could be seen doing household chores. Overall, all these artworks are vibrant, and captivating.
“It hurts me when people say Kashmir is not an aesthetically pleasing place,” says senior artist Masood Hussain, who has been commissioned with this project. “So we need to beautify Kashmir in all possible ways. This is just one of the many first steps taken to beautify Kashmir.”
Unlike works of art produced in the privacy of studios, these wall paintings are open to judgment by the public and patrons who pay for them. The young artists have been given a platform to display their artistic skills. “It’s given us a tremendous experience. Working on such a large canvas and that too at a public place boosts our confidence,” says Sofi Suhail, second year graduate student from Sculpture Department as he dips the brush in the bucket, giving final touches to the painting.
The paintings have also attracted public and media attention. Passersby crossing the Hyderpora junction halt briefly and turn their heads to look at the paintings before walking past the flyover.
“Initially we had inhibitions like how we are going to do it in a public place,” says Bushra Mir, another artist who is a graduate student from Department of Applied Arts. Wearing a red dress, half of her face is covered by a black mask. She steps down from a wooden ladder, aware of watchful eyes around her. Her eyes are fixed on the painting. “But everybody supported us right from our family to public. So we feel very comfortable now. I thank all people who accepted our work,” she says. The group had initially put a curtain to complete the artworks in privacy. “Later we removed it as people appreciated our efforts and work,” he says.
The freshly painted “cultural images” on the city walls have, however, also drawn criticism from people who question the motives behind these wall paintings. An artist (name withheld) working at the Institute of Music and Fine Arts objected to the “Kashmiri culture” being portrayed in these wall paintings. “Culture is live. What we live and where we live becomes our culture,” he points out. “We don’t live under thatched roofs and Kuccha houses. So what’s the purpose of showing what we are not doing?” he asks.
However, general public opinion seems divided over the portrayal of “Kashmiri culture” on the city walls. “It’s good to see our traditional culture on our paintings,” says Danish Hamid, a B. Tech student from the city. “We have forgotten our traditional houses which suited our environment. So it’s a good thing. I liked it.”
A section of people see these wall paintings drawn against the pro-freedom graffiti that can be seen on many walls across the length and breadth of Srinagar. They are apprehensive that these wall paintings are actually done to cover up the pro-freedom graffiti. “They want to claim all these public spaces,” says Irshad Hafiz Lone, a resident of Barzulla. “In the name of beautification, they are muzzling the voices of dissent, the writings on the wall. But it won’t last long.”
Ashiq Hussain Bhat, a political historian, says youth will draw graffiti over these wall paintings. “These painting on walls cannot stop people from writing pro-freedom slogans. Over these pictures, people will come with new pro-freedom slogans and that will be more prominent,” he says. “What can stop them from expressing themselves?”
The “beautification of walls” has come under criticism at a time when city’s basic infrastructure, including vital road links, are still in a dilapidated condition. “Tourists don’t come here to see the walls,” says Majid Bhat, a Kashmiri resident presently based in USA. “They come to see the natural beauty. Authorities should instead use this money to first construct roads and plant trees.”
SMC Commissioner, Tufail Matoo, however, allays all the criticism, calling the project ‘completely non-political.’ “This is a pilot project, we wanted to see the peoples’ reaction,” says Matoo. “A good number of people seem to have accepted it, so we can now think of many such projects.” The Commissioner is hopeful that these wall paintings will “boost tourism” and help in sensitizing the people to keep the environment “neat and clean.”
While the ‘beautification’ of city walls goes on ‘apolitically’, it remains to be seen how long these paintings will remain on the walls.