Sanjay Kak

Arts Research

Grant Period: Over one year

The grant supports Delhi based filmmaker and writer Sanjay Kak to look at the work of a remarkable generation of contemporary press photographers in Kashmir. Sanjay Kak is an independent documentary filmmaker and writer whose recent work reflects his interests in ecology, activism and resistance politics. His entry into this project is as someone whose work as a documentary filmmaker and writer has been focussed on the conflict zone of Kashmir for some years now. Through his work in the last decade, his concerns with regard to Kashmir have never been ‘unvarnished’ truth-telling, but that of trying to work around the hardened representations.

At present, Kashmir stands at a curious point in its cultural history. There is no indigenous film production, and it has been two decades since the last cinema house was closed. Local language channels have considerably suffered with mediocre government propaganda that few watch. Only few theatre groups survive, and they manage, at best, a handful of plays a year. Though Kashmir has a landscape of vibrant traditional music, the poor management and paucity of resources have skewed it against the artists, and very little contemporary music is being produced. There is a similar scenario in the contemporary visual arts as well, with no art galleries or centres for artists to showcase their work. What is visible is some writing, although it is largely journalistic and accessed mostly through social media. Amidst this deplorable cultural milieu, however, the past three decades have witnessed the emergence of a distinct field of photojournalism in Kashmir.

By recognising photography and photojournalism as a valid contemporary cultural practice, this project aims to trigger a conversation around the place of art in Kashmir amidst conflict. This project will play a catalytic role focussing on photographic practice and the lives of the photographers, who attempt to connect their own troubled world to the universe outside. Extensive conversations will be held with ten select photojournalists, through three workshops that will be conducted in three different districts of Kashmir, keeping in view their re-emerging voices in relation to their practice and the context. The most important enquiry to be focussed on is how the photographers locate themselves within the layered narratives of Kashmir’s history of the past three decades and its present, and what they see as their role in the society they are a part of. Discussions will attempt to uncover the relevance of their work to the contemporary chronicle of Kashmir as it emerges, and what they have achieved over this period.

The timing of this project is very crucial for two reasons. First, in September 2014, as this proposal was being developed, Kashmir was ravaged by a flood of almost Biblical proportions. Many important public and private collections including the state museum of Kashmir, suffered considerable damage. Some got wiped out entirely. The photographs of this deluge - taken by the photographers who were at work literally hours after they themselves had been flooded out of their homes and workplaces - will provide an archival dimension to this project. This could mark the beginning of a significant, and as yet absent, conversation about the historical value of photography as a practice in Kashmir. Second, after several years of being pushed into a sullen silence, the people of Kashmir are re-emerging with their own stories in their own voice. Sanjay’s own book Until My Freedom has Come, is a pioneering example of this, in which the intelligence, wit and clarity with which young people are responding to their circumstances are presented. This project aims to open a similar space with photojournalism as its focus, but with larger, and more complex ambitions.

This project is part supported by IFA. The total cost of the project is Rs 20.74 lakh, of which Rs 6 lakh will be contributed by IFA and the remaining is underwritten by the Prince Claus Fund, Netherlands, under their Culture in Defiance programme. Considering the nature of the project that includes research, documentation, a set of workshops, and a publication at the end, and with the recommendation of the evaluation panel, we decided to allow Rs 2 lakh more than the limit allowed by this programme for this project. The funds from IFA will underwrite research, workshops and the designing of the book.

The decision to make this grant is embedded in IFA’s mandate to support work from marginalised or relatively unexplored areas. While the book comprising photographs of the ten journalists with their biographies and a curatorial essay by Sanjay will be the outcome of this grant.