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Painting Portraits of Pain in Kashmir

Majid Maqbool spoke to Hina Aarif, a young artist from the valley who paints pictures of people caught in the violence of the Kashmir conflict

Since her childhood, 24-year-old Hina Aarif, a resident of Buchpora, Srinagar, liked drawing figures and making sketches. She began drawing as early as a six-year-old. Her parents recognized her talent early, encouraging her to keep drawing. Eventually, as she grew up, she realized that there is something more to her work. “I realized I was an artist in conflict place and as the saying goes ‘conflict is a place where art thrives the most’, so it slowly and steadily reflected in my work.”

Aarif paints touching sketches and colourful paintings, more recently of the pellet victims, showing their plight, illuminating their dark world for the outside world. She shares these sketches, which take hours and sometimes weeks to complete, on the social media, and on her Instagram where her artworks touch an emotional card with many people, even with people outside Kashmir. “Not many people outside Kashmir know about such crimes done here. They don’t even know what a pellet gun is, leave alone the pain of being blinded by it,” she says. “I paint to bring these victims into light so that more people come to know about their plight.”

Aarif says that as an artist, she feels it is her responsibility to throw light on the victims of the Kashmir conflict

As an artist, Aarif says she paints what she’s witnessed since her childhood. “I have no pretty, fair pink cheeks to paint but holes in the eyes created by pellet guns, and dead bodies and funerals of kids…”

Aarif used to draw Kashmir’s lush landscapes, the scenic beauty and sunsets before 2008. But the 2008 uprising and subsequent civilian killings following the Amarnath land row impacted her art deeply. “It changed me inside out,” she says, adding that till then she’d never witnessed such mass protests and violence unleashed on the streets as she witnessed in the summer uprisings of 2008 and later in 2010. “It did not feel real, it felt like war scenes from a movie,” she says. She was breathing in that smoke of turmoil which, she adds, punched holes in her existence.

Self Portrait

In 2011, she moved to Delhi to pursue a bachelor’s degree course in applied Art. Then she went on to complete her MFA in applied art from Jamia Millia Islamia University. This summer, she completed her Masters and moved back to the valley.

“I felt like an alien even while I was away from Kashmir studying in Delhi,” she says. “I couldn’t fit in.  This longing to return became my identity.”

Being sensitive to the pain of her fellow Kashmiris, she says she chose to spread awareness about the plight of victims through her artworks, hoping that they’ll get some justice. Aarif’s artworks made since last year, which depict the plight of young pellet victims, has also attracted some hatred. She says she also received some threatening messages from people outside Kashmir who didn’t like her depiction of pellet victims. “But I didn’t stop drawing and painting about the condition and plight of my people,” she says.  “Through my works I want to knock at their doors of ignorance and unawareness.”

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In Kashmir she says her arts works are appreciated and make a quick connection with the people as they see their own lives reflected in them.  “But when I was based outside Kashmir, I was looked at with suspicion and I felt alienated,” she says. She doesn’t blame the people though. “It was not their fault because they were and still are misinformed and fed with lies about Kashmir and they do not know what exactly is happening in Kashmir with the Kashmiri people.”

A college girl from Kashmir protesting against the use of pellet guns on students in Kashmir

Aarif’s work has exhibited at the MF Hussain Art Gallery in New Delhi and also shown, and sold, at Freight Gallery, in Western Australia.

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