An art group in Kashmir is transforming the landscape surrounding the famed ski-resort of Gulmarg with attractive murals on hitherto neglected public properties.
If you drive uphill from Tangmarg to Gulmarg, you will come across large, colourful murals splashed across walls depicting the way of life in the Valley. Endangered goat Markhor walking out of blue walls, tourists riding on sledges and a Kashmiri family sitting around the traditional fire pot kangri are some of the pieces of artwork that will welcome you on your journey to the ski resort.
The Arts and Life Initiative Foundation (Alif) — a 15-member team registered as a foundation about two months ago — is behind this fascinating artwork.
“Young artists, trained from institutes like Shantiniketan and Jamia Millia Islamia, became a part of Alif to do something in the Valley. The scope for artists is very limited in Kashmir and you do not even have spaces for conducting workshops or exhibition. We wanted to create our own space,” said Arif Bashir, 34, the founder of the organisation.
A hut on which murals related to the traditional Kashmiri fire-pot kangri have been painted. (Photo courtesy: Alif)
Though most of the members of Alif are from Kashmir, a few belong to cities like Delhi and Begaluru. “In Tangmarg, which is the gateway to Gulmarg, numerous government properties are in a bad shape. We thought why not turn them into something attractive and hence we painted them,” Bashir said.
After the group’s first work drew attention, it struck a deal of 10 such mural projects in Tangmarg and surrounding areas with the state tourism department. The projects, out of which nine have been completed, are sponsored by the JK Cable Car Corporation, a state company which runs the Gulmarg gondola.
Bashir, a Master’s degree holder in journalism and a trained filmmaker, said, “As people travel up to Gulmarg, we want to give them a taste of what they have in store at the ski-resort, on the way itself.”
Basharat Bashir Naik, 29, an artist and a member of Alif, said, “The themes of the paintings revolve around Kashmiri culture, heritage and wildlife. The markhor painting was our latest.”
Naik, a Master’s degree in painting from Jamia Millia Islamia, explains that the murals have been created in such a way so as to give a three-dimensional effect, explaining why the markhors appear to be coming out of the wall. But Alif’s goals are not limited only to painting murals in Tangmarg.
“We are already in talks with the tourism department regarding expansion of our work to Srinagar city,” said Bashir, adding in future they are planning to work in the tourist resorts of Pahalgam and Sonmarg.
“We will be changing abandoned and shabbily maintained spaces. We won’t disturb anything historical,” said Bashir.
Apart from murals, Alif plans to collaborate with educational institutes and NGOs and take art to villages in Kashmir, while encouraging young people to take it up as a vocation.