The fiftieth and fifty-first cups of nun chai


Matt said the nun chai reminded him of soup, kind of like his mother’s mushroom soup. Cayla said it was comforting, kind of like a soft hot chocolate. People are different and this makes things unique.

Very directly, Matt asked how I felt about the idea of “art in a war zone”. I paused. I remembered Arundhati Roy once said how important it is to search for flowers in war zones. I told Matt I felt art had the potential to be one of the most important things both within and outside of a war zone. I asked Matt what he thought. He said, he really wasn’t sure – it was probably something quite specific to each individual context. He didn’t really like the idea of a whole heap of large scale installations popping up while people were being bombed, but he also implied that there were other more relevant ways for art to exist.

Cayla spoke about photojournalism, and Matt asked if she felt this was art. If art was about expressing an individual perspective of the world then, for Cayla, photojournalism was indeed art. She went on to tell us about a photojournalist from the New York Times named Damon Winter who sparked up a controversy when he won an award for images of the war in Afghanistan that were taken with the iPhone’s popular “hipstamatic” application.  This application gives digital images taken on the iPhone the somewhat nostalgic aesthetic of a saturated medium format roll of film. Some critiqued Winter’s work for manipulating the “truth” with a sort of popularised aesthetic. In defence, Winter himself remarked:

We are being naïve if we think aesthetics do not play an important role in the way photojournalists tell a story. We are not walking photocopiers. We are storytellers.  We observe, we chose moments, we frame little slices of our world with our viewfinders, we even decide how much or how little light will illuminate our subjects, and — yes — we choose what equipment to use. Through all of these decisions, we shape the way a story is told.”

It made me think of the stories that have flooded in and out of Kashmir – particularly since last Summer. In Kashmir truth is something hard to pin down. But rather than search for truth it is more important that a diversity of stories are told. The truth of the matter is, that truth can never be pinned down no matter where one may be. Cayla is a journalist and we spoke about the media in Kashmir and the how the voices of Kashmiri journalists and writers seemed to be getting stronger both locally and internationally.

We spoke further about cultural production in Kashmir – about ‘art in a war zone’. Cayla is developing a website about music videos and so I began to tell her about the rapper MC Kash and his music video Beneath This Sky that was produced recently by Elayne McCabe. We watched it online. The landscape of Srinagar’s streets spoke vividly; imagery of Maqbool Bhat’s face pasted to a wall, barbed wire in the sky, military cantonments on a hillside, convoys on the streets, burnt out empty houses, the Dal Lake (polluted), and graffiti that speaks of human rights violations and cries for Azadi (freedom).

But in comparison to Beneath This Sky the imagery that accompanied MC Kash’s 2010 release I Protest (Remembrance) was far more graphic. Still images of the Summer’s violence, possibly collected from an array of sources online and compiled into a slideshow, moved with his lyrics. We saw faces, bloodied. I protest was raw in both form and content. Cayla’s eyes seemed sensitive. As MC Kash recited the individual names of those who died in the Summer of 2010 Cayla, Matt and I fell silent. We listened and we watched.

This is art produced in a war zone, where flowers also grow.


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