EXHIBITION PROPOSAL / WiTNESS / 244732 / 30 JANUARY 2018 Abstract Kashmir stands at a curious point in its cultural history, at present. There is no indigenousfilm production, and it has been two decades since the last cinema house wasclosed. Local language channels have considerably suffered with mediocre governmentpropaganda that few watch. Though Kashmir has a landscape of vibrant traditionalmusic, the poor management and paucity of resources have skewed it againstthe artists, and very little contemporary music is being produced. There is a similarscenario in the contemporary visual arts as well, with no art galleries or centres forartists to showcase their work. Even in educational institutions, expression in the formof art is very restricted and contained to small groups. What is visible is some writing,although it is largely journalistic and accessed mostly through social media. Amidstthis deplorable cultural milieu, however, the past three decades (1986–2016) have witnessed theemergence of a distinct field of photojournalism in Kashmir.By recognising photography and photojournalism as a valid contemporary culturalpractice, the Witness photobook project aimed to trigger a conversation around the place of artin Kashmir amidst conflict. The conceptualisation of an exhibition, would take the idea of photojournalism expressed in the photobook further, not just by Kashmiri photographers but by photojournalists around the country, to understand differences in the narratives as told by people who call it ‘home’ vs professional ‘witnesses’. ContextIt isn’t a new phenomenon for the people of Kashmir to raise slogans or even arms to voice their demands, as is seen in their troubled past, through the Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs and Dogras. For years now, this has been a demand for freedom. Sceptics in India, eager to contain the state of Kashmir within its boundaries will continue to question the many uncertainties of the word freedom. But in 2010, it was made very clear, the meaning of Kashmiri freedom—a freedom from the Indian state. Scrawled on walls were the words—Go India. Go Back. With the state unwilling to heed to the demand, according to popular sentiment, they continue to pour more resources into silencing the voice of the people and have introduced ‘non-lethal’ methods of crowd control. In response to these ‘non-lethal’ methods, the sang baz or stone throwers, continue to raise their voices against the occupation. This phenomenon, that began in the summer of 2010 and continues till date, draws parallels to the resistance movements in Palestine and is thus referred to as their new Intifada, the shaking-off of the chains of occupation.Witness—the photobook Witness, as a photobook, collects the work of nine photojournalists whose work spans three decades that have made Kashmir, famously dubbed the Paradise on Earth, as well-known as a zone of war and conflict. I took this project up as a graphic designer, drawn to it by my interest in print and editorial design, but most of my learning came from my deep involvement with the content, its context, and presentation. My experience of visiting Srinagar, closely following the photographers as they covered the stone-pelting protests and involving myself in the story of the Kashmir conflict, deeply sensitised me to the role of curators and practitioners of the visual arts. It was a challenge trying to examine how yet another representation of the conflict could be made efficacious for the reader, and more honest to the Kashmiris themselves. Exhibition conceptualisation The book consists of an anecdote by the oldest photographer, who describes walking up to a neighbourhood in Aalikadal where he had captured a crackdown in 1993. He tracks down that very house with almost no difficulty, because nothing has changed—the courtyard where the incident occured, the memories of the people in the photograph. This anecdote is a testament to the sustained nature of conflict in Kashmir. Images capturing the new normals of the unrest get created everyday and these are important to the story of resilience of its people. The focus of the exhibition would be the photojournalistic images taken between the years 1986–2016, three decades that have seen the struggle for freedom move from an armed militancy to stone pelting protests. June 2016, during the designing of the photobook, Kashmir witnessed the killing of a militant commander by the armed forces, the aftermath of which led to unrest in the valley for over half a year. This unprecedented upheaval had to find its place in the book in spite of the deadlines, to create an honest history of the decades being spoken of. This incident is a reminder of the persistent and relentless nature of Kashmir’s conflict because of which the exhibition would be envisioned as a dynamic, living exhibition that is fed with content as it gets created, because such is the nature of the everyday in Kashmir. In the Indian subcontinent, daily news seldom goes without a news report on Kashmir with photojournalists sometimes travelling across the world to shoot in Kashmir. Apart from the nine photographers, featured in the book, the exhibition would include the works of non Kashmiri photographers, from all across the country to look closely at the differences in the narratives of people who who call it ‘home’ vs professionals on an assignment. In spite of being a highly militarised zone, Kashmir continues to be thronged by visitors from the Indian subcontinent, for whom it is still the land Mughal King Jehangir called “Paradise on Earth”. Curating images by Kashmiri as well as non Kashmiri photographers would help examine the balance between the Kashmir ‘the paradise’ and Kashmir ‘ the theatre of war’. Unlike the media and newspapers where these persistent images of violence appear individually and fleetingly, the challenge for the exhibition would be to utilize these images to make evident the concurrent nature of the conflict. Photojournalism also presents the opportunity to investigate some of the most argued events in the narrative history of the valley that arose during the creation of the book—For example, the migration from the Kashmir valley of more than 200,000 Pandits, its Kashmiri-speakingHindu minority, as victims of fear and violence, which is absent from the photojournalism from within Kashmir. News in social media The past few years have seen an increase in the spreading of news from the remotest parts of Kashmir over social media, leading to the eventual clamping down of internet services in the valley. Photojournalism more accurately, citizen journalism, through social media has been the the most effective way for news to spread and eventually mobilize support for the struggle. A section of the exhibition would focus on the use of social media by the Kashmiris to send their message out to the world. CRITICAL APPRAISAL / IN THE SHADOW OF THE PYRAMIDS / 244732 / 30 JANUARY 2018 Large screens surround you on all four sides, flashing hauntingly beautiful images of crowds, all in a frenzy and a sense of urgency. The voice we hear is that of a woman who occasionally narrates poetry and occasionally talks about her childhood. This is probably, the recreation of a walk through Laura El Tantawy’s mind, as she walked through Tahrir Square on the night of January 25, 2011; moving through this pulsating environment but drowning out the sounds of the mobs to recollect thoughts of the Egypt she had fond memories of. In the Shadow of the Pyramids, is Laura El Tantawy’s nine year long journey of travelling back to Egypt. It showcases images of reportage while trying to reconnect with the land she was born in. The exhibition is an immersive experience; forming peaks of urgency, belonging and nostalgia, sometimes through the intimate photographs of protesters at the square and sometimes through Laura’s narration of her favourite poems. The exhibition’s title was also the title given to her first book, which she published soon after her first visit in 2005. The book explores an alternate narrative, one that showcases the events of January 25th and creates a sense of the chaotic air in Egypt at the time. The exhibition also presents ‘The people’, a newspaper printed in Arabic. For this publication, Laura takes a more personal tone of voice with her imagery. She tries to connect with the individual stories of the people in the crowds, as one of them, trying to understand what happened to their homes, which were once beautiful. The presentation of events of her journey through multiple narratives in various formats is very interesting to me. When a journey has been as long and is as significant in the history of the land and its people, can there be just one narrative that one puts out there? Tantawy’s work had a deep impact on me, due to the resonance of the situation in Egypt with the political climate in Kashmir. The contrast between living an everyday plagued with conflict and coming ‘home’ to realise that things were not the same, comes across through the images of the Kashmiri photojournalists and that of Laura’s. More than a photojournalist, Laura El Tantawy’s work does the work of a historian, capturing not just the events as they happened but recreating them through her imagery of all those involved.