By Malik Aabid:
Art is a powerful expression, it helps people discover and express themselves realistically. It especially plays a significant role in an occupied territory, artistic and creative outlets can go a long way in alleviating the pain and suffering in conflicted society. In Kashmir, art has contributed to the freedom movement by allowing defiance of the state narratives. It is often the youth who are taking art and literature as a means to express themselves represent the actual picture of occupation we are living in.
A few months back, one used to see graffiti on walls in Srinagar. They would carry message like “We want freedom”, “This is a police state”, “Abolish AFSPA” etc. In Downtown (Shere-e-Khass), you will still find graffiti on walls, shops and even on roadsides. In places like the Airport road and Lalchowk, authorities have replaced these graffiti with murals by saying “that the project is aimed to beautifying the city and providing a glimpse of Kashmiri culture.” But a good section of people believe that this project is less about beautifying Kashmir and more about covering these pro freedom graffiti. Now the question everybody is asking is, do the new murals add to the culture of public art, replace it, or do they challenge it?
The murals beautifully depict Kashmiri lives and culture, and would enhance the appeal of traditional motifs among urban residents while keeping harmony with the stunning landscape of Kashmir. But this should not be at the cost of freer forms of creative expression like graffiti.
This story has another narrative, which says that these murals are sending a message of peace and love, and not of brutality which Kashmiris are subjected to. If the authorities wanted to make the city more beautiful, then why did they choose to cover graffiti?
Is it because they wanted to please New Delhi by sending a message that normalcy has returned to Kashmir after the new government came to power? If this is indeed the case then they are just fooling themselves.
Democracy grants freedom of expression; however in Indian occupied Kashmir every dissenting form of expression is either brutally suppressed or camouflaged. Graffiti is also a form of resistance which is sought to be concealed through the murals. Pragmatists may feel elated with the culture and art of Kashmir being displayed prominently and publicly, but those who are in love with pro-freedom graffiti will definitely feel cheated again.
Shouldn’t there be openness and space in Srinagar to accommodate different impressions and voices? The government should stop trying to discipline art and culture. Freedom of expression means allowing a person to do whatever they want to, not what you want them to do. So if we are to be truly appreciative of these authorised murals, it would be wise to let the pro freedom graffiti be. Otherwise, if denied space, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the rebellious youth of Kashmir go on to subvert the murals and draw graffiti on them as well.