There are few places as complex as Kashmir. It’s a place of incredible beauty. Think Dal Lake and its flower sellers. But it’s also extremely unsettling at times. Think strife and stone pelting. Sakshi Gallery’s latest exhibition, Kashmir: Insider/Outsider, juxtaposes different perspectives of the troubled state. The insider view is provided through 11 photographs and a video by Veer Munshi, an exiled Kashmiri who now lives in Delhi. His works focus on the abandoned homes of displaced Pandits. As someone not native to the state, Delhi-based photographer Amit Mehra’s works — around 40 photographs — depict locals as well as the haunting silence and claustrophobia he experienced.
Due to the political circumstances, Munshi, who studied fine arts in Baroda, left Kashmir in 1990. He returned only after 11 years. “In 2008, I gathered the courage to visit my ancestral home in Srinagar, which I knew was burnt down. I saw the rubble. It was a difficult moment for me,” he recounts. His cousins’ houses were in a similar state. Unsettled, he chose photography, which he learnt for two years, as the medium to convey his emotions.
“My inner search was not about looking for Kashmir as a picture postcard, but the silent portrait of the house that stands as a ruin.” For this archival project, he chose unembellished shots that allowed the house to tell its own story as “a stark skeletal reminder of the life that once thrived in Srinagar”. Shooting was not an easy task. Munshi shot early mornings to avoid provocation.
Mehra first visited Kashmir for an assignment in 2006. “In a way, Kashmir doesn’t allow photographers to think. There are images floating everywhere; cameras can shoot faster than AK-47s,” says Mehra. “Kashmir was stuck in my mind.” He went back in 2008 without a camera and only took notes.
“I visited tea shops and dhabas to chat with locals. I had to drop my identity as an Indian to get inside the skin of my subjects,” he observes. When he returned to shoot, he clicked not what he saw, but what he felt. “The images are metaphorical. I work on a human, apolitical level. As a photographer, I am only a witness. My aim is to show that everyone suffered — the Pandits, the Muslims and even the army.”