A Kashmiri man rows a shikara through the Dal Lake on a full moon night with a girl, probably his daughter, crouched behind him. The boat is filled with skulls. The moon is cruel and coldly observes the unfolding tragedy.
Melancholy Kashmiri women sit in gardens where trees cast the shadows of rifles -- the meadows have been militarised, while some are used by the army for artillery drills.
Kashmiri woman hold pictures of their sons or husbands who have ‘disappeared’ and stand with their bodies pierced by barbed wires -- they stand resilient, stronger than the barbed wires.
These frames were the part of Vadodara-based artist Rollie Mukherjee’s solo exhibition on Kashmir. Titled “To stories rumoured in branches”, the exhibition ended after a successful month-long run on Saturday at the Conflictorium – Museum of Conflict in Ahmedabad.
Mukherjee, 38, an alumna of Shantiniketan in West Bengal and the MS University of Baroda, has been producing art on themes drawn from Kashmir for almost a decade now. Her recent exhibition focuses on “the very notion of female agency, memory and remembrance as resistance in the context of Kashmir,” she says.
“To stories rumoured in branches” showcases 60 art pieces completed over the last few years using multiple media. The work explores the Kashmir conflict, especially focusing on issues relating to militancy, disappearances, secessionist sentiments and, in a detailed manner, the agony and struggle of women caught in a conflict zone.
The knowledge about Kashmir in India and around the world today is “imagined and manufactured rather than based on reality,” Mukherjee tells HT.
“I wanted my works to evoke the very reality of Kashmir by questioning all meta-narratives which tries to systematically make all attempts to silence the voices of Kashmiri people,” she says.
The mother of executed separatist leader Mohammad Maqbool Bhat and Parveena Ahanger, the chairperson of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) who has been spearheading a movement for justice for ‘half-mothers’ and ‘half-widows’ of the Valley since 1990, both feature in a painting, “Knots of Resistance”.
“This work shows the collective resistance of the mothers. Despite being fragmented from within they speak and stand for each other,” says Mukherjee.
In another piece of embroidery art, hanged Kashmiri militant Afzal Guru – convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case – stares out from red cloth.
Everything inspires Mukherjee -- from the work of famous Kashmiri writers to interactions with Kashmiri shawl-wallahs she meets in her hometown of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh. Her work also references famous documentary photographer Steve McCurry, along with writings on the Dalit-Bahujan news site Round Table India.
Based on the theme of the art piece, Mukherjee changes the medium and colour themes. For embroidery-based art, she uses “the cloth” as “human body” – “the wounded body which is the site of pain and is a storehouse of memory”.
Despite having spent years exploring -- and depicting -- the condition of Kashmiris, she feels her work can’t actually interpret their pain.
“The pain and trauma women have gone through is something inconceivable and unimaginable for me to imagine sitting in Gujarat. It’s really impossible to interpret someone else’s pain,” she says.
“What you can do, however, is try to critique certain structures and ideologies even while being a part of it.”