The two-year pause imposed by the pandemic forced a Srinagar-born and Saudi Arabia-based urban planner to look at life and Kashmir differently. He started painting Kashmir from his memories of the 1980s and eventually decided to dedicate the first ever private art gallery to artists of Kashmir.
“There was not much to do during the COVID lockdown. My daughter in Dubai bought me paint and a brush. It took me to the beautiful locations of Kashmir that I visited in 1983 as part of my research project at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. It was like rediscovering Kashmir as well as myself,” Iajaz Naqshbandi, 63, told The Hindu.
He was able to produce 24 oil paintings, mostly landscapes with serene, unpolluted and virgin locations. Many of them are already sold.
“There is a deliberate attempt to keep urbanisation away in my works. My paintings are coming out of anger and not pleasure. The calmness and the pristine beauty have been already tarnished by urbanisation. Even old, traditional and indigenous architecture is vanishing. Kashmir has stark architectural resemblance with Turkey, which has managed to preserve it. In Kashmir, everything is getting bulldozed,” said Mr. Naqshbandi.
His artwork is both a lament and a clarion call. “My artwork speaks of what has been lost. The new generation needs to come forward to preserve our legacy, whether in natural beauty or architecture. For that, they need to be re-introduced to them again,” he added.
To fill the gap with the new generation, he had dedicated a registered art gallery at Srinagar’s Regal Chowk, which was thrown open last Thursday for all the art lovers of Kashmir with his works on display.
“I want people to use this space. It will also help us de-stress ourselves by taking us away from the other realities we live in Kashmir. I want people to rediscover their roots,” Mr. Naqshbandi, who has worked with a French company as a project manager, said.
The art gallery has come at a time when the Valley lacked any such permanent space. It also comes in the backdrop of the closure of an art gallery by the Tourism department following a controversy in 2015.
“I dream that this gallery becomes a place where people observe Kashmir’s misty mornings, the waterfalls and the sunshine over meadows in paintings,” he said, while expressing his helplessness over the fast-changing landscape of Kashmir.
“Everything about Kashmir is changing. The spots I visited in the 1980s in south Kashmir’s Achabal has no forest cover now nor any pastoral community
He admitted that the gallery would not have come into being but for COVID-pandemic. “The pandemic did force me to think about life anew. It’s a small gesture from that realisation,” he added.