Cartoonist and graphic novelist Malik Sajad talks about politics, art, and how a conflict zone is someone’s home first.

Malik Sajad has been drawing political cartoons and graphic art about his home, Kashmir, since he was 14. “It is part of the way we are brought up. Everybody talks about politics every day, even to their kids,” he says.

Sajad picked up the art from his father, an artisan, while drawing up designs of furniture and lamps on paper. “He drew traditional Kashmiri motifs as part of the design and I would help him with it,” he says.

He never felt that he wanted to do anything else. “Apart from the pressure of deadlines, I feel like I am playing when I am working.” His works have travelled the world, exhibited in Poland, New York and London, apart from several Indian cities.

Now 25, Sajad has a Master’s degree in Image and Communications from Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is now preparing for two residencies in the United States. Excerpts from an interview —

At what point did you turn into a serious, political cartoonist?

In school, we used to talk about politics; I think that became a foundation stone for my early work. In 2003, I showed my published cartoons to the editor-in-chief at Greater Kashmir office. He welcomed me. It was difficult for the first couple of years. I lost sleep. Today when I look back I think that was a precious learning experience.

And when did you begin to write graphic novellas like Endangered Species and Identity card?

In 2005 or 2006, one of my friends told me about comic journalism and asked me to draw something about Kashmir. It was a daunting experience. But gradually I learned more about this medium.  I must add that comic journalism is not my thing. I am a fan of storytelling and that is altogether a different medium. 

Why did you feel these stories needed a bigger audience?

I found animation or visual stories the best medium to communicate experiences. Kashmir or any other conflict zone, whatever you call it, is someone’s home first. There is a window, there is a mother, a child, many close friends and a love affair. If one wants to understand what Kashmir means to Kashmiris, they should check out their own houses, families or close ones and not just the burning staged debates on the flat screen. As Joseph Beuys used to say, ‘Through artwork one can communicate the experience without repeating the event’. 

How did you evolve from drawing one-panel cartoons? 

If there is anything in my life I can brag about, that would be my friends and teachers who always challenge me. They are behind the education, conversations or the happy accidents that expose or force me to experiment more. 

Is your work semi-autobiographical? Or entirely based on true events?

My work reflects the experiences I grew up with. When it is non-fiction, one has to intervene in the layout of memories. Otherwise it would be chaos like the old furniture in the storeroom. 

What do you think about this relation between fiction and reality? We’ve seen in visual narratives such as Waltz With Bashir that ‘true event’ stories work better when they have a strong undercurrent of emotion. 

Well, I think referring to a story as fiction or non-fiction is a process of branding an artwork, with underlying ideology of demand and supply. I don’t know the exact words but Manto said, ‘My stories might be fiction to you but they are the reality I see’.

What can you tell me about the time you spent studying in London? 

London was important in order to shed some of the personal insecurities one inherits by being stuck to one place. I made many new friends and I still Skype with my tutor.

What other projects are coming up for you now?

I am going to participate in two artists’ residencies in New York and Berkshire in the next two months. I am looking forward to knowing more people and experimenting more.  

What are your thoughts on the future of Art in Kashmir?

Well, there certainly are many artists in Kashmir today. There are writers, poets and journalists as well. They have something to say, and they have seen a lot.