On fallen chinar tree, Kashmir univ students paint a war-torn homeland
For six years, the fallen tree had just lain on the Kashmir University campus – waiting to be sold off or burnt. Today, after assuming the identity of a new canvas for an old conflict, it has become a talking point.
On the university’s picturesque Naseem Bagh campus, which is dotted with 600-odd chinars, a fallen tree provides guitars with a platform to transform into Kalashnikovs and barbed wire to envelop Srinagar’s much-loved Dal Lake in a near-terrifying display of artistic talent. Sketches after sketch go to show how a land of beauty and peace was ravaged by hatred and conflict over the years to become what’s now known best as a terror-torn state.
Not surprisingly, this open installation – created by a group of 10 students from the varsity’s music and fine arts department with little other than flour and water – is being perceived as “radical” in an institution where students unions have been banned since 2009.
However, the students behind the artwork – which took ten days in the making – say its meaning is open to interpretation. “All art is political. If you know about our geo-politics, you can interpret the installation based on that. Then you will know the significance of the barbed wires. But if you are from some other place, you might interpret it another way,” says Saqib Butt, a final-year student and one of the brains behind the initiative.
Qazi Tabiah, a first-year student, says the installation sprang from a love for art. “Basically, the idea was doodling on the chinar tree. The part I worked on has objects that relate closely to Kashmiri culture, such as chinar leaves, utensils used in Wazwan meals and shikaras,” she adds.
While the artwork happens to be a “tribute to the fallen chinar” on the one hand, it’s a site-specific activity that provides students with a chance to break free of their department’s academic curriculum on the other. Working on it between classes, they discuss themes that can be cast onto the installation before actually going ahead with the task.
Butt says that if the tree is not disposed of by the authorities, the artists may redo the entire installation after six months – putting new ideas on chinar bark.
While observers say that such site-specific installations are common in art colleges across the world, the Kashmir confict gives this particular project a “radical” character.
“The installation has given these students an idea of the so-called contemporariness of things, which is perhaps very normal in other colleges. But things like this are seen as radical in Kashmir, given the context of state surveillance and suppression,” says Showkat Katjoo, a faculty member associated with the project.