Over the years, the Kashmir region has witnessed long-term violence in which deaths and destruction have become a regular scene to watch, and it has not escaped artists' attention. Kashmiri female artists aim to change the social abnormalities that they have experienced due to these decadeslong conflicts in which they grew through their art. Artist Badarunisa Bhat, 25, is one of these artists and wants to escape the pain through spirituality in her work.
Bhat started to love painting at a very early age, and it was her grandfather who taught her about spirituality, the works of 13th century Sufi mystic, poet and Islamic scholar Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Islamic literature. "My inclination toward spiritual art has been shaped by the surroundings in which I grew up. When I was a teenager, I started reading about Islamic literature, particularly about Rumi, and that influenced me a lot as an artist," Bhat told Anadolu Agency (AA) at her home.
"You are not just a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop," Bhat quoted Rumi as an inspiration for her artistic spiritual journey to find God.
In the Muslim-dominated capital city of Srinagar, the paintings on her home's walls depict the mystic work that Bhat has created over the years since she got involved in this form of art. She said the illuminating light of the moon in most of these paintings depicts the straight path that people yearn for or want to take to realize themselves.
"My paintings give some kind of relief from the grief, pain and loneliness that the women are facing in this torn region through decades of conflict and social discrimination. It is just the divine force that can soothe our wounded heart," she said.
Her art somewhat resembles that of great Kashmiri female poets such as Lal Ded, also known as Laleshwari, Habba Khatoon, also known by the honorary title the Nightingale of Kashmir, whose body of works mainly revolved around social discrimination and suffering but finding escapism in being near God.
Bhat believes suffering affects every sensitive soul, with artists, poets and others equally impacted, and her works are the feelings that she paints on the canvas.
Afifa Makhdoomi, another female artist from the region, started painting in school, like Bhat. "I started drawing in school and gradually became more passionate about it in the later years of my life, despite facing rejection from my family at one point," she said.
Most of Makhdoomi's works are in black and white, pulling the viewer's immediate attention to the subject. "I use a monochromatic art form just to depict what the subject is going through, and I have chosen this art based on the events we are witnessing over the years," she said.
The paintings at her home tell many stories about the turmoil, depicting consequences of conflict like the effect of pellet guns and schools. "As an artist, you cannot escape what is happening around you, and this comes out naturally for the artist when they feel for it," she said.
Her works revolve mostly around conflict, women's issues, depression and children, but they are risky too. She said her artworks related to conflict have never been well received by people living outside her region. "I used to get threats from many people on social media asking me why I paint such things."
She pointed to a painting of an eyeball perforated by pellets. It was during the 2010 unrest when the Indian government forces used pellet guns to control the demonstrations in the region, and since then thousands have been left blinded as a result of their use.
Makhdoomi, who is pursuing a postgraduate degree in applied arts, said artists like her who want to showcase reality in the form of art face major risks. She has somewhat shifted her focus now to women's issues, which are deeply rooted in society.
"Women are still taken for granted, and their emotions and mental wellbeing are still being played with. I want to paint all these, and I am doing it," she said in an affirmative tone.
Both Bhat and Makhdoomi want to excel at what they do. They have already received recognition for their work through many awards.
Bhat said one of her paintings is on display at Ankara University in Turkey. Besides, she has sold her artwork in Australia and other countries. Makhdoomi also organized different art exhibitions of her works in many countries, particularly in Europe. "Through art, a message can cross any boundary, and if somehow my work portrays that message, I will consider myself to have succeeded in my art," she said.
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