VICHAAR: THE LIFE OF KASHMIRI ARTISTS

Mir Suhail

In this episode of Vichaar, Team Azaad Awaaz was in conversation with Mir Suhail, a Kashmiri artist, and political cartoonist. He talks to us about his journey to becoming a cartoonist, his experiences in print media as well as his views on the medium of art as a tool to challenge majoritarian and state-led oppression. Mir Suhail, who is currently in New York, U.S.A, talks about the anxieties as well as the freedoms of living in a foreign country. He feels a level of responsibility and burden even, to carry out his work as an illustrator and an artist since he enjoys some freedoms that his peers back in Kashmir and India do not currently experience.    

He takes us through his life in Kashmir, from being born in a period of militancy, to growing up in an occupied area. Mir tells us how life in a militarized zone comes with psychological trauma and how violence, both implicit and explicit become normalized. He started working as a cartoonist for a local newspaper at the age of 15 and later moved to Delhi to continue his work. He uses art as a way of expressing and processing the feelings of trauma and turmoil within him. Mir’s art and his experiences reflect the resistance and resilience of his community.  

Mir feels the need to make art not just about Kashmir but also about social hierarchies and discriminatory practices in India. He explores the issues of caste, gender, and religion that occur in mainland India in his artist practice. Mir remarks that art for him becomes a way of resistance and building solidarity with other marginalized groups.  

The conversation moves to the elements of Mir’s artistic style. He incorporates elements of satire and humor in his cartoons and uses the cartoons as a way of helping people outside of Kashmir relate to his experiences and understand them through the visual medium. The cartoon stands out in a small space within a large body of text and headlines in a newspaper and these small dimensions help challenge the cartoonist.  

As an artist, Mir also notes that it is difficult to continuously engage with themes of violence and oppression, and the news cycles reporting on these issues can become overwhelming and tiring for someone who lives away from home.  

Finally, Mir talks to us about mainstream news media and their harmful narratives about Kashmir. The newsrooms can be hypocritical and corrupt spaces and some journalists do not have the option of leaving these spaces. Mir posts his work on social media, which has the façade of democracy and freedom of expression, but he has experienced censorship on these platforms and has even faced abuse from some users.