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Abandoned: Hearts, homes of the Valley
NIDHI GUPTA  11th Mar 2012

A picture from the Pandit Houses series

n a screen in a tiny, dark room in the art gallery Latitude 28, a single pair of feet shuffle through lanes, trample over autumnal chinar leaves, sink into deep, white snow through Kashmir's beautiful winter landscape. Another screen on a perpendicular wall shows an animated wooden house on fire, crumbling to its death. The only noise in the room is the slight chitter-chatter of burning wood and occasional bombardments that make you jump out of your skin. This is how artist Veer Munshi wants you to feel with him as he, a Kashmiri Pandit, journeys across a home lost to him many years ago.

Part of a travelling exhibition called Shrapnel, this dual video-projection is called Leaves Like Hands of Flame, after a line in curator Ranjit Hoskote's poem. Hoskote writes: "In Shrapnel, Munshi adopts the elegist's chosen forms: the memorial and the archive. These forms allow him to shift the focus from the image to the conditions that make the image possible, or even inevitable." Simulation, of past memories and current circumstances, certainly dominates this show, as does the sense of disturbance and displacement Munshi instills through his life-size paintings in what Hoskote calls the Chamber.

"When you enter the Chamber, you are surrounded by the chaos and claustrophobia of a riot scene," says Munshi. Done with acrylic on handmade paper, Munshi paints, in a rather graphic novel illustrations style, aggravated young men surrounded by "automobile material" — nuts, bolts, springs, tyres etc — meant to represent the debris of contemporary violence. The burnt, earthy colours highlight the pain and sense of vindication pouring from their faces. "These images are not particular to the Kashmir conflict. I take references from daily newspapers to imagine the madness of such violent scenes," he explains.

Finally, there is the suite of photographs titled 'Pandit Houses' — a collection of snapshots of empty houses in the valley, laid bare of life when the Pandits began to flee as the conflict took a decidedly bigoted turn. "These are houses similar to the one I have grown up and lived in. These pictures are my personal interpretation of this loss," rues Munshi.

This exhibition is a collaborative project of Millenium India Education Foundation to revitalise cultural traditions of Kashmir in art and culture with the support of the Ministry of Culture. "The valley suffers from a short memory syndrome. Today, when I visit Srinagar, there is a sense of loss. I am a loner, a visitor, despite meeting many people that I still love," he laments. In this stark narrative of loss, one finds history repeated many times over.

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