There’s a new splash of red on the walls of Srinagar, one that has nothing to do with pain or power but has everything to say about the valley’s rich culture.
With brushes and buckets in their hands, a group of six Fine Arts students from Kashmir University have begun a unique project commissioned by the municipal corporation — paint murals on the city’s walls to “fill the blank spaces” and “highlight Kashmiri culture”.
They started just 11 days ago, and the first two murals are already complete on the road to the Srinagar International Airport — they depict rural life; a third that’s coming up shows the interiors of a typical Kashmiri house.
Saqib Bhat, 22, and his “friends”, Sumaira Majeed (22), Maria Shamiri (22), Zaid Bhat (21) and Suhail Sofi (21), who work together on each of these murals, were chosen for the project by famous Kashmiri artist Masood Hussain who also suggested the theme.
“At first, we didn’t have an idea of the scale of work, it took us six days to paint the first mural,” said Sadiq. “But now we are catching up. We have been working together as a group for some time now. We have developed a good chemistry. Each one of us works individually on these murals but we have an overarching narrative that makes the work collaborative.”
Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) commissioner Tufail Matoo said the aim of this initiative was to give the “current generation an insight into what we were”.
“There were some blank spaces in the city and the intention was to fill them and give people a glimpse of our culture,” Matoo added.
However, the project has led to some apprehensions and misgivings, too.
“This is aimed at the beautification of Srinagar city and we don’t want to run into any controversy,” said 22-year-old Bushra Mir, a student of Applied Arts at Kashmir University. “We live in a conflict zone and we are conscious that we don’t choose or participate in anything that initiates trouble or creates controversies,” she added.
Saqib, meanwhile, added that he is aware of murmurs that the project is aimed at erasing the “pro-freedom graffiti” that have come up on many walls in Srinagar, especially on the airport road.
“It is the SMC that selects the sites where we paint these murals,” he said. “But we also have a right to reject. The final decision is from both sides.”
SMC’s Matoo, too, is eager to allay the apprehensions. “This is completely non-political. We are choosing the spots carefully so that there is no negative publicity. This is a pilot project and we will wait for reactions from people before going any further,” he said.