Painting Kashmir’s Essence | Rising cashmere

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It was in 2012 when he painted his first picture. After receiving recognition from his peers, he thought of giving a new life to his lost passion. Iftekhar A Wani, a self-taught artist from Kashmiri, worked in the corporate sector in Saudi Arabia. He had a strong passion for painting since childhood, but lost it due to his busy work schedule and family commitments.

Recalling his childhood days in Sopore, he saw his father working on drawings, who was a civil engineer by trade but was inspired by one of the valley’s famous caricaturists, BAB. He said: “His cartoons would be published in the daily newspaper and I would draw the same thing in my drawing book. That’s how I started studying because there was no art teacher in Sopore at that time, so I had to study everything by myself.”

After his MBA studies in Bangalore, his job took him to various cities in India and the countries of the Middle East to Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Bahrain. As an art lover, he often visited art galleries, exhibitions and events of these places and appreciated the feeling and vibe that was missing in Kashmir at that time. “The aura of these artistic elements and paintings was different. It was a different feeling to be in a place full of art and nothing. Art is therapy for me,” he said.

In Saudi Arabia he once visited a bookstore where he was fascinated to observe a separate art shop. Immediately he bought some brushes and paints and started to paint. He devoted two days a week to his paintings. He soon uploaded the image of one of his paintings to Facebook and received great praise. Then there was no stopping Wani. He did one thing at a time.

He paints oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings and has a huge collection depicting village life, shrines and mosques, art and architecture, mountains and streams on canvas. While using colors boldly and vividly, he keeps the paintings simple and easy to understand as he said art should not create ambiguity and be relaxing on the eyes. He said that art should be like music, which is liked and appreciated and despite its origins can reach viewers from all over the world.

“I like the architecture of the old town, Srinagar. The houses line up near the Jhelum River, shrines and mosques downtown. I painted temples, bridges and scenes from different parts of the old city,” he said.

In Saudi Arabia, Wani has participated in various events and exhibitions. He said he was the only expatriate invited by the Saudi Royal Commission to do exhibitions and live shows with major local artists during flower festivals and other special occasions. He was also invited by the Saudi Heritage and Culture Society to host art exhibitions and live shows in many historical places, and he also presented his art in the Yanbu Saudi Chamber of Commerce.

He said: “The response I received there was overwhelming. When people saw images of snowy mountains, greenery and village life of Kashmir through my paintings, they found it very calming and healing,” he said.

During the holidays, when he returned to Kashmir, he held exhibitions in many places. So far he has had three solo exhibitions. In 2015 he took part in an art exhibition in Sonamarg where all SAARC peace delegates were present and in the Sangermall complex in Srinagar where he received a lot of attention.

Another at Sri Pratap College Srinagar, originally scheduled for one day, was extended by three days due to the immense response from the audience. The theme of the exhibition was a tribute to Sher-e-Khass.

“Apart from the other works, I showed my works related to the old town. The then rector of the university liked it very much. I’ve had good reactions from people in other places in Kashmir as well,” he said.

His last was a 10 day art exhibition at Mehta Art Gallery, Uttar Pradesh.

He is currently working on a project on the architecture of the famous Sufi saint Shahi Hamdan. He said: “Shahi Hamdan built Khanqah e Moula and Khanqah-e-Sopore where he offered Asr prayers. In my work I will cover all the mosques and shrines dedicated to him. To do that, I have to talk to historians and researchers.”

Speaking about his clientele, he said that most of his clients are from UK, Dubai, USA and Singapore. “You know the value of art. The Pursiyar Mandir painting was bought by one of the clients in London,” he said.

What makes him uncomfortable is that only a small proportion of Kashmiri people appreciate art and buy paintings. He said the valley has good artists from all districts, but people’s disinterest in art dampens an artist’s spirit. “It takes creativity and time. You have to practice a lot and only then does it get a wow effect. Artists can’t produce art because nobody buys anything from them,” he said.

In addition, the lack of art galleries is another obstacle. It is important to mention here that recently the Art Gallery was built in the old Secretariat of Srinagar.

“If art galleries were there, we would have had a chance to show our work,” he added.

He further said that in order to promote arts and paintings, the government should use local artists’ paintings in their offices and facilities. “Corporations can also purchase our paintings. Art exhibitions should be organized so that people can buy them. There should also be art galleries in other districts and there should also be a website or web portal where paintings by local artists can be exhibited and the whole world can see them,” he added.

He believes that art is what takes a person on a tour of the place. “A visitor only learns about the culture and heritage of a place through the paintings and the art. It is the identity of the culture. Art, culture and sport make the place attractive,” he said.

Speaking about his philosophy – art as therapy – he said that people today are stressed and usually glued to gadgets. “I want people to take their eyes off their phones and see something comforting that will put a smile on their faces. If my painting relaxes someone or puts a smile on someone’s face, then my painting has done its job,” he concluded.

Masood Hussain, Javiad Iqbal and Rouf Qayasi are some of the painters he appreciates and takes tips from.

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