Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams

Over the last month, Chemould Prescott Road has hosted a collection of Nilima Sheikh’s work poetically titled ‘Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams’, which spans the last six years of her artistic career. Through this exhibition, Sheikh, who has been actively involved with Kashmir’s multiple social issues and political conflicts, has chosen not only to illuminate the poor condition of life in this strife ridden state, but also to highlight the multicultural influences that have shaped its rich literary and artistic heritage.

This exhibition is lyrical and beautiful in a way that only fleeting dreams of Kashmir can be, given the nature of its representation in the news media today. Drawing from a range of sources, especially historical narratives, Sheikh’s works reiterate the notion of Kashmir as paradise. The ‘Firdaus’ series of works, for example, form the centerpiece of the exhibition combining Sheikh’s light, miniature technique with a large format. The epic hanging scrolls and Thangka-like paintings also hark back to the history of Kashmir as a Buddhist state, making a bold statement about its multicultural history, and the deep contrast between this past and the present culture of violence that currently prevails there.

Sheikh has borrowed the title of the show from the renowned Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali, whose poetry she has proclaimed is congruent with her own thoughts and feelings about the state. In the past, the artist worked closely with this poet’s words and stanzas in her series titled ‘The Country without a Post Office - Reading Agha Shahid Ali’. Here, Sheikh uses one of his poems to highlight the intricacies and beauty of existence in Kashmir, away from the bloodshed that has come to dominate public thought. Weaving a deep pattern of skillful textures and colours, Sheikh manages to subtly convey the exquisiteness of the valley, and also brings to notice the lighter aspects of everyday life and culture there.

The issue of Kashmir is not new to Indian contemporary artists. Sheba Chachchi’s ‘When the Gun is Raised Dialogue Stops’, for example, chronicled testimonies of women from Kashmir and served as a platform for previously unheard voices to be raised. Recently, Ranjit Hoskote curated ‘Snow’, and exhibition in New Delhi, for which he studied the responses of twelve contemporary artists to the current situation in Kashmir.

Nilima Sheikh, however, does not choose to glorify the violence in the state, as she believes that is not the only identity Kashmir must have. Rather, ‘Each Night Put Kashmir in Your Dreams’ serves to reassert the paradise that Kashmir is, and the dense traditions and multicultural influences that must be taken into account while creating any narrative about it. A plea for a return to peace and the glory of Kashmir’s past, this exhibition affords visitors an oasis of calm to contemplate the artist’s appeal and re-envision Kashmir in their dreams.

Born in 1945 in New Delhi, Nilima Sheikh studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts at M.S. University in Baroda and is one of India’s most respected artists. Sheikh currently lives and works in Baroda.

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