Cartoonist Mir Suhail’s work has gone viral on social media drawing the attention of national and international media amid the ongoing Kashmir turmoil in which at least 58 people have died and over 8,000 injured.
Srinagar-based Suhail’s digitally manipulated poster of the hit 1964 Bollywood film Kashmir Ki Kali – showing actress Sharmila Tagore with a bandaged eye and her face pockmarked with pellets – is the latest to draw attention to the violence-hit state across the spectrum.
Security forces have been using pellet guns, deemed non-lethal, in dealing with protesters and enforcing order in the valley. However, these small projectiles have caused at least deaths and blinded dozens of others, most in the age bracket of 15 to 35 years.
Suhail has also used famous western paintings like Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh and The Scream by Edvard Munch by placing bandages on the subjects’ eyes indicating blinding due to pellet injuries.
Last month, Suhail released a cartoon showing a child with a bandaged eye and chief minister Mehbooba Mufti with the Tricolour wrapped around her eyes. The image has garnered more than 1,000 likes and another 1,200 shares on Facebook.
Suhail grabbed the national headlines earlier this year after Facebook removed his cartoon on the hanging of convicted militant Afzal Guru.
On Thursday, he released the third in the series – a set of photos featuring Indian freedom fighters and revolutionaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad, with their eyes bandaged and faces disfigured by pellets.
Hindustan Times spoke to Suhail regarding his recent work during the ongoing crisis and about being an artist in such times of conflict.
Here are the excerpts:
Tell us about the latest set of images showing Indian freedom fighters blinded by pellets.
I have received messages from many across India saying that protesting Kashmiris are all ‘terrorists’. The national media always call protesting Kashmiris as ‘terrorists’, but then what was Bhagat Singh for the British?
Singh fought against the British and the British killed him. He is a freedom fighter for India, but a terrorist for the British.
In a similar way, Chandra Shekhar Azad was a revolutionary who fought against the British rule. And so did, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in their own ways.
These young Kashmiri men and women going against the Indian rule – and many dying for that – are all but ‘freedom fighters’ for Kashmiris.
You cannot understand the Kashmir issue by looking at it from only one angle.
What was the motivation behind recreating images of famous Western artwork with a pellet victim twist to them?
The primary aim was, of course, to reach out to a larger audience and show the world – which is well versed with the Western paintings – about the plight of Kashmir.
I thought that after seeing a ‘blinded by pellets’ Mona Lisa people would start thinking what if at that time Mona Lisa was a woman hit by pellets – disfigured and blinded.
‘The Scream’ is a very scary image. It’s like a nightmare. Imagine that nightmare is one of being blinded by pellets.
And of course, art has its own interpretations and I think my artwork has been interpreted by the audience as they wish.
Why did you choose to alter the Kashmir Ki Kali poster?
Kashmir Ki Kali shows Kashmir as a ‘beautiful place’. Most people just think of Kashmir as a ‘beautiful place’. But it’s not like that.
The beauty is just a façade. People here have suffered a lot. Most tourists who come here just see that ‘beauty’ but the pain of the people go unnoticed.
Altering the poster was an attempt to bring out that pain in a way that people outside Kashmir can relate to it easily.
And today, if you search Google for the film’s poster, it will show up my image too along with the ‘beautiful’ posters. The Kashmir Ki Kali blinded by pellet has been documented for good.
In these times of unrest and violence, what should an artist do? What responsibility does he have?
Everyone has a responsibility in these times. The artist also has. Everyone is protesting in his or her own way. The artist has the visual medium, and it is very powerful. The artist tries to tell the story of this crisis to an audience as large as possible and make people aware of what’s going on.
Art is a means of resistance. Kashmir is a very, very complicated political issue and you need to be well informed to speak about it.
You need to be sensitive. It’s a war zone and everyone’s life is completely political.
A political debate is going on and I have participated in it in my own way.