Splash of colour, culture brightens Srinagar’s walls

By Sheikh Qayoom and Waseem Shah,

Srinagar : Inspired by internationally-known Kashmiri artist Masood Hussain, a group of students is painting murals on the walls of Srinagar to bring alive the region’s culture and splash colours on the local environment.

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“Hussain is our friend, philosopher and guide in this small effort,” Sofi Suhail, who is part of the spreading cheer on the International Airport Road, told IANS.

For the first time in Kashmir, the otherwise shabby-looking walls are attracting onlookers because of these murals — and reviving the Valley’s rich culture and traditions that are fast fading amid the glitz of modern-day lifestyle.

To begin with, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has started a pilot mural painting project in uptown Srinagar.

“We want youth to know about their history, culture and past traditions through this public art. We got in touch with some well-known artists and started the work,” SMC Commissioner Tufail Matoo told IANS.

This brought Masood Hussain into the project as its superviser.

“What inspired me to accept this was a desire to create some space for creative work here. These murals are a small step in beautifying and making Kashmir presentable,” Hussain told IANS.

Hussain roped in a group of six fine arts students from Kashmir University and they have so far, in 15 days, completed three murals at uptown Srinagar’s busy Hyderpora flyover square. Work on the fourth is now under way.

“We are very excited about this as it is the first time such an activity is happening here. Not only are we enjoying this work but in the process, we are also learning about our culture and past traditions,” Suhail noted.

“We had to start somewhere, but after discussing it in detail, we chose this place as the road from Srinagar airport leads to this square. It is a relatively better place with good roads so it will surely please tourists and locals alike,” Hussain said.

The students say the public’s response has been positive.

“We work here from morning till evening and nearly 400-500 people stop here every day to see these murals. They ask us about them and appreciate our work. It feels good and has encouraged us,” another art student, Bushra Mir, told IANS.

Apart from displaying Kashmir’s rural life and age-old traditions, the murals, students say, aim to attract talent in Kashmir.

“Through these murals we also want other students to get inspired to opt for fine arts as a career so that this genre is taken forward by people who are passionate about it,” Saqib Bhat, who is part of the group, told IANS.

The group has also identified some other spots along the airport road where it intends to paint more murals in the future.

“We want to create a sample which can be replicated or done better at other places. But apart from such paintings, the authorities also need to focus on environmental designs. Painting a wall is okay, but what about its surroundings? We need to creatively facelift the surroundings,” Hussain said.

“We need to educate ourselves as a society about our past and do things which create an interest among the people,” he added.

About reports that the murals are intended to erase the separatists’ graffiti that exists on Srinagar’s walls, the students say their work is “purely non-political”.

“We don’t want to be in any controversy. We are students and our work has nothing to do with any kind of politics,” Bushra Mir, another member of the group, told IANS.

“We are very choosy about selecting a spot to paint murals. It is a mutual decision of SMC, Masood Hussain sahib, and ours,” said Saqib, stopping his brush and paint job to speak to IANS.

The public support to such a pioneering effort in Kashmir has encouraged the group.

They now look forward to painting the entire city with tradition and culture — and the good news is that there are takers for this artistic effort.

“For a while, one feels as if it is not the same city where shabby walls offended passers-by. Let the march of murals continue,” Nazir Ahmad, 47, who has a shop in the Hyderpora area and also lives there, told IANS.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be reached at [email protected] and Waseem Shah at [email protected])