Review: “A mere drop in the sea of what is” by Alana Hunt (4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney)

Mir Suhail Qadiri is a political cartoonist and artist from Kashmir whose mischievous and penetrating work has captured the political history of contemporary Kashmir in recent years. In early August, as Indian forces continued their brutal crackdown on the uprising in Kashmir, he released a disconcerting collection of images that mobilised popular culture to draw attention to what was happening in Kashmir. In a poster of the iconic 1960s Bollywood film Kashmir ki Kali(The Bud of Kashmir), actress Sharmila Tagore is seen bandaged and bleeding. The popular tourism campaign ‘Incredible India’ is sardonically turned into ‘Incredible Kashmir’ with bruised, battered and pellet-ridden bodies placed in the iconic landscapes of Kashmir so treasured by India’s popular imagination. Highlighting the hypocrisy of India’s occupation of Kashmir, Indian freedom fighters—like Nehru, Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and Chandra Shekhar Azad— appear with pellet wounds and bandaged eyes. These national heroes were once viewed as terrorists by the British in much the same was as India views Kashmir’s freedom fighters today. Turning to cultural icons of Western art history, Suhail produced A History of Art in Kashmir, inflicting the Mona Lisa, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and many more with pellet injuries and bandaged eyes.

On 10 August, staff at the SMHS Hospital in Srinagar covered their eyes with patches to express solidarity with the pellet-hit victims they were caring for. The action garnered international attention. See our blindness is a phrase that appeared on one of the placards. The phrase almost begs, but it also demands that people acknowledge the violence that is happening in Kashmir every day, the violence whose victims the hospital staff work for day in and day out. See our blindness compels people to witness. And with witnessing comes a degree of implication and responsibility. The repeated metaphor of the bandaged eye—damaged, shut, unable to bear witness—has become synonymous with the uprising of 2016. It represents the injured, blind and dead in Kashmir. It symbolises the blindness of those outside Kashmir. It also provides an entry point for those of us outside Kashmir to see, to acknowledge and to begin to understand.

— Alana Hunt

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