Kashmir’s tree of protest

Kashmir tree

A fallen tree in a university in Indian-administered Kashmir has become a symbol of protest and creativity for students. Photographer Abid Bhat meets some of the students who have made the tree their canvas.

About 10-15 students of the Music and Fine Arts department of Kashmir University have turned the chinar (plane) tree into an art installation featuring doodles, sketches and text about Kashmir’s politics and culture.

Some art works also depict the decades-old conflict in the state.

Kashmir is a disputed territory with both India and Pakistan claiming it in its entirety. A violent insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir began in the late 1980s and though it has become less intense in recent years, the causes of the conflict are still far from resolved.

India continues to deploy around 400,000 security personnel in Kashmir to maintain peace – a cause for resentment among many local people.

In the above artwork, the boundaries of Kashmir are depicted by barbed wires. The students said their drawings were not political, but the meaning of their work was open for interpretation.

Some of the creations also display Kashmir’s cuisine, culture and wildlife. The majestic chinar is known as the “crown tree” and has become part of Kashmir’s identity since it was introduced here hundreds of years ago.

Saqib Bhat says people perceive art differently. “This work is not self-centred. We don’t want to tell personal tales. We want to share experiences which people can relate to.”

Students said they were not doing the artwork for commercial reasons. “We are spending our own money and have not received any outside help,” Mr Bhat added.

Albila Zehra said their art was essentially “a tribute” to the chinar. “To ensure that we don’t miss our classes, we do the artwork early in the morning, during the lunch break and in the evening after classes end. We cover it with polythene and tin sheets to prevent rain from damaging our work.”

“We use different techniques like paper mache” to create art on the chinar, art student Anis Rashid said. “We are basically portraying the culture of Kashmir through our art on the fallen tree.”

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