Preview: Kashmiri artist Veer Munshi combines tales of exile with classical poetry
It has been 28 years since the artist Veer Munshi moved out of Kashmir valley, as a part of the historic mass exodus of Hindus and Kashmiri Pandits in the spring of 1990.
But even now, he sees visions of his old home in the valley. “In my dreams, I never see the homes I built, or my place in Gurgaon, where I’ve been living ever since,” he says, in a telephone conversation.
“Exile is a final state of mind, as we all get settled, even if we migrate,” explains the artist. “After all these years, even now, we’re still there!” he emphasises. “My dreams are there, it’s in my subconscious mind.”
These were the thoughts that led to the title of his solo show, Only The Mind Cannot Be Sent Into Exile, at Gallery Sumukha. A note from curator Lina Vincent offers, “The ravages on his homeland and the vulnerability of its peoples are starkly visible in the works.”
Speaking of the added audio elements at the show, Lina adds, “Munshi brings back voices and pleas from the past, through the integration of sound installations — in the heartrending compositions of the visionary poets Lal Ded (1320-1392), Allama Iqbal (1877-1938) and Saadat Hasan Manto (1912-1955).”
These passages were recited by the likes of filmmaker Sohail Hashmi; singer Dhananjay Kaul, and poet, curator and theorist Ranjit Hoskote.
Horse with no name
Among the works is Zuljanah, of a horse laden with skulls and bones. The work relates to a particular community of the Shias who specialise in papier-mâché craft, and how they survived through times of strife.
“It’s not like they’re paid in bones, but that’s the emotional baggage they carry,” offers Munshi, adding that the horse also refers to ritualistic Shia processions. Munshi, who continues to visit the valley frequently for his work, speaks of how conversations have changed among the people of Kashmir.
“They speak of death, pain, and children playing with Kalashnikov toys. The whole narrative has changed in conflict areas, in the way people live.”
Much of his intention is to preserve the traditions and “living craft” of Kashmir — “our rich
heritage”, says Munshi.
The artist explains that his works became political only after his move out of Kashmir, but his ideas remain deeply in the “personal-political” mould.
Having worked extensively on subjects related to the minority Kashmiri Pandit and Muslim communities, Munshi stresses that his ongoing efforts are to infuse some humanity in the midst of the polarised politics going around.
“I see polarising happening more now than before, and artists’ responses to such situations are becoming more relevant,” says Munshi.
In one section of the show, the artist also takes to a form of photo-journalism, with a montage of
pictures of burned, destroyed and abandoned Pandit houses, apart from a series of sketches of locals, in Memoirs of a Desiccated Land.
Ultimately, it’s all about the lived experience, says Munshi. “If there is a report on killings in a different country, and you paint about it, it would not really touch your skin, unless you go through the actual experience, and walk enough in it. In the end, people will only relate political works to their own personal experiences,” he reasons.
At Gallery Sumukha. Preview on February 17, 6.30 pm. On view until March 10.
— Jaideep Sen