Monday, 23rd February 2015.
Kashmir Art Quest has been working for the promotion of art, artists, and culture of Kashmir since its formation in August 2009. We started small, but over the years – in spite of the challenges – we have managed to revive the art scene in Kashmir and take it to the international stage. We executed some of the most innovative and challenging projects, and have worked with nearly 500 artists around the world. We strongly believe that the state of arts in any society strongly influences its social, cultural and intellectual evolution. Our commitment is towards creating an international art scene in Kashmir.
Over the years we realized the crippled state of our arts and artists. We are on the verge of a cultural death. There is also an absence of public creative spaces. Even from a tourism point of view research suggests that creative and cultural avenues are a must have in any tourist destination. The World Travel and Tourism Council has produced extensive evidence which shows that ‘for centuries, museums and art galleries have been the cornerstone of any traveler’s itinerary.’ It is also evident how Arts and Cultural tourism spur economic development. Although it is a constitutional responsibility of the state to promote art and artists – for which there is the academy of arts, culture and languages – but as responsible citizens, we took matters in our own hands and have been working selflessly for the cause. Having worked with numerous artists of the valley and artists all over the world, we realized the importance of establishing a centre for contemporary arts and research in Kashmir. This was, without a doubt, for the good of our people, for the good of our economy, our culture, our artists and the entire state.
I returned from London last year and discussed this vision with the Ex-Director Tourism, Mr. Talat Parvez, Commissioner/Secretary Tourism & Culture, Mr. Shailendra Kumar, and other officers in the month of August 2014. Eventually we received support from the tourism department in terms of converting the main hall on the 1st Floor of the newly Constructed Tourist Reception Centre Srinagar into an art gallery. We conceived and prepared the entire project proposal, and formulated the business model. Kashmir Art Quest gave have them free advice, expertise, and personnel support to prepare a world-class gallery. We even contributed our savings. We worked hard day and night and our team was constantly at the construction site. The September floods disrupted some progress, but we resumed soon with greater spirit and enthusiasm. Once the space was ready, we worked closely with the artists and put together a fantastic show never conceived before. Finally Kashmir’s first ever art Gallery, Gallerie One, came into existence and was thrown open to people on 12 January 2015 at 2:00 pm.
Within one month we received global media coverage, and put together a world class exhibition of artworks by leading and emerging artists of Kashmir. Many exhibiting artists have already been recognized by galleries and institutions nationally and they have already started working with them on various projects. Kashmiri artists are receiving critical recognition all over the world. We also executed the first ever Design Summit to boost the creative economy in Kashmir and to bridge the gap between arts and the rest of the industry. To honor the point Seven (7) of the authorization letter that we receive from J&K Department of Tourism (No: Pub/18/DTK/78 Dated 22.11.2014) we have already started creating collaborations and partnerships with artists, institutions and organisations locally and internationally. Every Sunday we organize artist talks, and every Thursday we screen art documentaries which have gathered more and more public participation. Gallerie One is already becoming a major attraction for locals and tourists. What we have established is no less than any state asset.
However, in an unfortunate turn of events, when we arrived to open the gallery on Saturday morning we found that some people were tearing down the hoardings and signage all around the gallery. We thought they were some goons. When we tried to contact the department officials, to our utter surprise they were doing it all at the directions of the officials. They later chained the main entrance. We demanded to know why this was being done, and why we have not received any notice. We were told that “this is the decision of the government.” We tried to maintain calm and tried and speak with the officials.
And then, today, some fifty people (cannot confirm exactly how many) from the tourism department, headed by the Joint Director Tourism, barged into the Gallery, broke doors, started pulling down all the artworks, took away equipment and furniture. It was a shocking and painful experience. It all happened too suddenly.
“Why are you doing this? Why?”
“Its the decision of the Government.”
“But this is vandalism. You can’t do this! It is Illegal”
“Well, we did it, illegal or whatever, Its the order of the Government.”
“But we have not received any notice.”
“What can I do, its the order of the government.” … “Go ahead guys, bring down the stuff.”
“You are taking our stuff, who will be responsible for the damage?”
No Answer. Vandalism Continues.
The gallery housed over 120 pieces of artworks, estimated at a total of around seven crore rupees. The equipment, furniture and other things extra. We can confirm that some artworks and other things have been damaged, but as of now we are not certain as to what the extent of damage is. We cannot confirm what remains and what is stolen, broken or damaged. But we definitely feel harassed, intimidated, and threatened. And not to mention this is an attack on artists works, their intellectual properties, on creative expression, on a creative space, and on our years of hard-work in trying to create such critically important space in Kashmir. Kashmir FINALLY had an art gallery! There was a new sense of hope and excitement within the artists groups and art lovers. Brand Kashmir had found a new kind of recognition globally. We had started to build a library, a digital media lab and an archiving & cataloging centre so that anyone could come, sit, work, have a coffee, have conversations. Attend workshops, seminars, and events.
In this conflict hit region we initiated a refreshing, innovative and progressive thought. We tried to do what the government must protect, encourage, and promote. But what happened today is a major embarrassment for all of us as a society.
On behalf of Kashmir Art Quest and Gallerie One.
Syed Mujtaba Rizvi
Watch Below some raw footage that we managed to capture. We will update with more details as much as we can.