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Posted at: Mar 11, 2018, 2:15 AM; last updated: Mar 11, 2018, 2:15 AM (IST)

Until he meets his muse

The turmoil in Kashmir finds form in artist Neeraj Bakshy’s works

Nonika Singh

The sky that used to shine with stars seems to have faded. Few and far between, a volley of hot pellets lights up a patch of dull sky, but it doesn’t spread a cheer. It’s a Valley on fire, dripping with voices of anguish, pain and angst. So how could Neeraj Bakshy, who was born and brought up in Kashmir, escape the trail of violence that led to his exile? But as the noted artist sits down to paint, it’s not just the turmoil that finds form and colour.

For him, displacement is not just a state of his physical being, but also an acutely gnawing mental condition. The childhood years of catching up with dragon flies, watching owlets come out of their hiding and the breathtaking panoramic vision of the Valley remain indelibly etched on his mindscape. With a deep sense of pride, he shares how his home state is replete with rich visual imagery, folklore and mythological tales. One particular fable that he can never ever forget is a love tale. Elements of the fatalistic love legend often creep into his works along with the other memories.

Back in time, while studying art at Kashmir University, he wanted to be a landscape painter. In fact, till he moved to Jammu and met artists such as the renowned sculptor Rajinder Tiku, he never thought art was a serious vocation. More recently, he exhibited along with senior artist Tiku and a Japanese artist Norio Takaoka at India Art Fair. The collaborative effort, titled Let’s Meet in A Dream, once again bought alive magic realism, a constant in his creativity.

If Jammu was the much-needed platform, Delhi proved to be the perfect launch pad. The country’s art capital might be perceived as a cut-throat world where artists never see eye to eye, but he brims with heart warming anecdotes of how senior artists helped him all the way. Legendary MF Husain would nudge buyers to bid for his works. Sakti Burman would get him brushes from Paris. And many a significant artist, such as Anjolie Ela Menon, continue to admire his compositions that are subtle yet powerful, evocative yet intriguing.

Water colour, the volatile medium that is not easy to tame otherwise, captures his flight into surrealism most suitably. Bakshy being an ardent admirer of wildlife, leopards, wolves, snakes make a dominating presence in his creative odyssey firmed up by frequent trips to East Africa where he studied African art. Egyptian and Haitian civilisations, the monumentality and strength of their figures too influence him deeply, but not directly.

Saying it in the face is certainly not an artist’s wont, so his works are no socio-political statements. Nor does he believe that artists ought to be raconteurs. “If you get too much into narration, you lose mystique and ambiguity — the two important threads of art,” he says. Even in his recent book, Premonitions: A Graphic Memoir on Kashmir, he has relied simply on line drawings to depict the desolation of the Valley.

Art is his catharsis, indeed. However, looking back is not always a pleasurable journey. For instance, bringing out the book was not in the least bit therapeutic. The walk down memory lane made him remember his friends, long for those carefree days in Anantnag and ache for the beauteous Kashmir.

Ever since he moved away, he hasn’t got a chance to exhibit in the Valley. And this is a dream he sees each day with eyes wide open. Till that eventful day, Kashmir will live and breathe in subtle hues in his works... The incertitude of displacement making him plumb deep within from where springs an imagery, rooted and fragmented, lyrical yet haunting, real and metamorphical; his gaze as much of an insider as that of the dispossessed. Pain and loss connect the dots between memory and nostalgia. In the theatre of the absurd, which he creates and recreates, he finds the Kashmiri sense of humour, ominously strange yet uniquely human. “I silently immerse in the world where I lived and tend to live in absentia.”

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