Talking art with Veer Munshi Part 4: Return from exile in order to understand what exile is

Home » Talking art with Veer Munshi Part 4: Return from exile in order to understand what exile is

Veering away from his Kashmiri history did not last very long for Veer Munshi. He tells Santanu Borah what made him come back in the final part of this four-part series. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here

A blast site in insurgency-ridden Kashmir, like the one on the left, drove Veer to paint his shrapnel series on the right

The short and seemingly non-political period in Veer’s life that we talked about earlier, soon gave away to his concerns about minorities, exile, and the politics surrounding it, very soon. In 2010, Veer want back to his home Kashmir and also back to political art. He wanted to make art that spoke of his situation and the history of a people whose lives irreparably changed by the exodus and insurgency in the Valley.

An abandoned Pandit house in the valley photographed by Veer

One project that he holds dear to himself are the houses that were burned down, vandalised and eventually abandoned during the Kashmir conflict. He says, “I want to document these destroyed homes. I chose to photograph them and I used an FM 2. Many of these homes were familiar houses of my relatives. I did during the winter. The vulnerability of these houses really shook me and I ended up documenting two to three thousand houses. This was my way of sharing my idea of belonging.”

After this sequence of events, Veer began to think about the idea of community very seriously. He realised that he was not alone and that everyone needed to be a part of a larger idea. “That’s when I became more or less an activist. I wanted to find out how to connect communities via art. That’s when I thought of Concourse in Kashmir, where I got 60 artists to put up a show. Unfortunately, while putting up the show a journalist friend of ours was shot dead. But we carried on with our mission. Violence had to be fought back with art and togetherness.”

The Concourse show where 60 Kashmiri artists participated. Photo courtesy Indian Express
The Dargah installation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020

As we delve into Veer’s work, it becomes clear that his enduring interest, despite his forays into other ideas, remains the problems of exile and migration brought on by situations that are not within one’s control. This idea found expression at the Kochi biennale in 2018, where he created a dargah. “All communities go to dargahs in Kashmir. And this is what I wanted to show in Kochi. I was able to get artists born in an environment of conflict. I wanted to show that there can be one place where everyone could come in and understand their situation and the complexities of their lives,” he says, while talking about the installation. He believes that you cannot simply study history from a perspective where you not a stakeholder, in the sense of understanding an event as it affects humanity as a whole. “For one to understand history truly you have to do your research. In a sense I am dealing with the present and that eventually becomes history. Untruth has no place in the expression of art. Speech might be untrue, but poetry has no untruth in. One cannot weave untruth in art,” he adds, meditating on what connects history and art.

Coffins were laid out inside the dargah at the Kochi Biennale

As we close our conversation, it becomes apparent to the writer that maybe, Oscar Wilde, is not all right when he says life imitates art. In Veer Munshi’s case, it is life that turned into art. There was no imitation but an intimate connection between what actually happened and how it was expressed. After this writer ends his call with Veer Munshi (a conversation that could have gone on for a few more hours), he comes back with a simple but profound understanding: that art and life run parallel to each other. Whatever life throws at you becomes what your art speaks of, often more poetically than just being a lament of how things did not turn out the way you thought it would. Veer Munshi’s Kashmir is not just his home, but also the poem of a people still waiting to be completed.

Finally, a few things became clearer: one must face the hunger and the homelessness to express it in a way that is not pretentious. No amount of great explanation will work if the fountain from where the expressions springs itself is untrue. “Without real soul, your art work will be on ventilator,” Veer observes. And that’s where we bid adieu. Maybe, soon he will have found an aesthetic solution to the problems in Kashmir. What is definite is that he has given soul to the pain of Kashmir, and that itself is beautiful.

 

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