Veer Munshi is a Kashmiri Hindu born in 1955, when India and Pakistan were in the process of demarcating their borders. Residing in Gurgaon, the artist works on socio-political themes by contemporizing traditional crafts by encouraging craftsmen in finding sustenance, through their long-established vocations. Inspired by his father who was an art teacher, Munshi majored in Fine Art from Maharaja Sayajiroa University of Baroda, deviating from Bachelors of Arts in Economics & History, and his first love, law.
At the India Art Fair 2017 I chanced upon his work and him, where he talked about the abandoned houses and shrapnel as the aftermath of the Kashmir unrest through a horse carrying skulls and bones of limbs. His papier mâché sculpture of a horse – Zuljanaha, suggested burdening of speed, with trauma and uncertainty.
For it, he learnt sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface) during a project of uplifting the status of traditional crafts in Kashmir, through design and technique intervention. And decided to retain the language of the traditional motifs, but change the subject; which took him close to 3-4 yrs, till it evolved into a piece of art.
Looking down on Indians disdainfully, he addressed our paltering attitude towards the age-old crafts. So, by adding another dimension to these customary skills, through installations he honours them, choosing to use the possibilities and limitations of any and every medium.
Paper machie’s history dates back to circa 105 A.D. in China, where it was invented. The word in French means ‘Mashed paper’. This delicate decorative art became Kashmiri in the 15th century, when a Muslim ruler Ghiyas-ud-Din Zain-ul-Abidin brought with him accomplished artists from Central Asia.
In the early days mineral, organic and vegetable colours were used, which never faded under direct sunlight or in water. But the process of preparing those colours was laborious, which gave way to distemper colours.
The important elements of this art is the flora and fauna of Kashmir, its historical figures, hunting and battle scenes, and court scenes influenced by Mughal miniature paintings. While the popular patterns have been the traditional ‘hazara’ or ‘thousand flowers’ (displaying every conceivable flower) and ‘gulandergul’ or ‘flower within flower’ with Chinar Leaf, Iris, Persian Rose, Almond, Cherry Blossom, Tulip, Narcissus and Hyacinth. The border patterns have Gondur and Tyond which are typically geometric abstracts. The ‘Arabesque’ (an ornamental design consisting of intertwined flowing lines, found in ancient Islamic art) too, is done in gold against a brown or red ground to show sprays of rose blossoms in fine lines while ‘Yarkand’, (an elaborate design built on spirals with gold rosettes radiating from various centers and white flowers) is laid over the gold scroll work. Cited Arts and Crafts of Jammu and Kashmir: Land, People and Culture
Appreciating Munshi’s creativity felt like an ironic tribute to Firdaus’s quote “If there is a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here!”