I first met Veer Munshi at an Art Camp that took us to Finland, Sweden and Norway. I was reconnecting with him after almost 1 year. His home is in ever so busy Cyber Hub in Gurgaon. Veer is Pronouncedly benevolent, well-dressed, socially active and full of thoughts. We kick off our chat over steaming hot cups of coffee.
- First tell us about Tihar Jail project?
It was a soul searching experience for me. Going to Tihar as a curator was a very rare honour. The show was curated and exhibited in Jail No. 5, meant for hardened convicts with and sentences of 10 years or more. My motive of doing this project was to do something good for them, bringing some reform in their lives as most of them become redundant after coming out of the jail. Society no longer accepts them. They get convicted again or try to end their life. Instead of reforming them in Tihar, I started feeling humble, after meeting each and every prisoner. We are blessed to be free, and have a life we can call our own.
Most couldn’t afford the lawyers’ fees; some live (bitterly) with a belief that they won’t be welcomed back in the society. I came across a girl who was from an art school convicted for 10 years. In her free time, she is painting those lonely walls in the jail just to cheer the corners and make it feel like home.
- Veer Munshi is an activist painter. Do you agree
I disagree. An activist is a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change. I just try to tell my story. My subjects are ‘live’ and close to what is happening in my motherland Kashmir. The pain is real. The wounds are real. The darkness is real. You can term that activism if you may.
- Munshi’s installation are more provocative than his paintings. Is that true?
I left Srinagar in 1990 due to political reasons. A couple of years later, my house was burnt. After 15 years when I revisited my home town I couldn’t recognize it.
I was very upset and started looking for other houses of my friends and relatives. I found ruined, abandoned houses frozen in peace. The woodand brick houses made me think of how to address my sadness. After years of exile, I finally started my work on ‘The Fate of Kashmiri Pandits Houses’. Today these installations have taken on a higher meaning and a greater purpose.
- Has trouble in Kashmir impacted your work and its nuances.
My works imitate what I saw and went through. Yes, My narrative turned political rather pretty pictures It also worked as therapy.
Kashmir was once a shining jewel on India’s crown and an example of peaceful co-existence. In 1989, an armed resistance in the Kashmiri valley started to drive out the Kashmiri Pandits from their heaven-like existence. Some call it a ‘voluntary migration’, others a forced exile; the politically correct term now is ‘an exodus.’
“Pandit Houses is stark, plain-spoken, without embellishment. There is no annotative manipulation, no theatricality, no melodrama. There they stand, in our line of sight: ruins, monuments, memorials. This is testimony to the unforgiving march of history, which takes no prisoners,” stated Ranjit Hoskote, the curator of the exhibition ‘Shrapnel,’ in which ‘Pandit Houses’ was displayed in 2009.
- Your famous installation with the upturned house? What does it convey and signify?
The Fallen House – serenity of desolution
“The Fallen House- serenity of desolution that occupied a position of prominence in the public art display at the India Art Fair 2015, an almost life size replica of a traditional Kashmiri house with its intricate design by craftsmen who have mastered that art over the centuries. Within the house were drawings of faces that bring to the fore the pathos felt by the people of Kashmir of all religions as also a video that captured the destruction and subsequent anguish felt by the people following the severe floods of August 2014..
My upturn house signifies a great heritage ruined by time.
- You come from the golden period of Baroda school of Art. Tell us about your journey.
My formal journey in art started in 1981. I learnt many new things and discovered myself as an artist in that holy place. It is the same place where legendary Professor K G Subramanyan taught for more 25 years. My journey in Baroda was like a hill-drive full of ups and downs; I imbibed many things from the distinguished teachers.
(Mukul Rai Bahadur is an art lover, collector and critic. He lives in Mumbai and works in a media company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pictures courtesy: The Kailasham Trust