WORK by MIR SUHAIL
Mir was born and raised in Srinagar, Kashmir where he completed a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Art. He began drawing as a young child while he and his family observed and experienced military occupation first-hand from the 1980s when promises for more autonomy had been reneged on by the Indian government. This was the start of a long period of state repression that played a significant part in shaping Mir’s artistic practice, aesthetic and content.
After graduating in 2006, Mir began to work for newspapers in Kashmir such as Kashmiri Images. Because of the heightened controls on the media and journalists, he had to creatively navigate increasing censorship and crackdown on the press.
Listen to recording of Mir reflecting on his family upbringing and the role his mother played in encouraging his art from an early age.
Mir’s art and personal journey have paralleled the situation in Kashmir. He moved to Delhi in 2016 where he began to work as a senior art director at CNN News. 2016 was also the time when Indian military forces used pellet guns on civilian protesters and during peaceful religious processions in Kashmir. Human Rights Watch estimates that between July 2016 and February 2019 139 Kashmiris were blinded by pellets. Due to widespread condemnation, media reporting on the situation in Kashmir was censored alongside a wider crackdown on the media across India.
In August 2019, Article 370 of the Indian Constitution was revoked rescinding Kashmir's special status through the imposition of more centralised authority. A few days before the abrogation of Article 370, Mir got married to his long-time partner and subsequently moved to the US where he has been living ever since.
Through cartoons, Mir captures the effects of political majoritarianism, controls on free speech and the press, militarisation, and other aspects of India’s increasingly undemocratic trajectory. As a Kashmiri, his perspective as an artist is informed by a positionality that recognises and understands military occupation from a community that has been on the receiving end of state repression.
As a cartoon artist working within the media, Mir is able to depict profoundly analytical points through drawings. In ‘Graves Are Still Open’, Mir highlights how enforced disappearances are yet to be acknowledged as a strategy of military control and how state impunity continues as each grave remains unmarked past the Kashmir ‘Stop’ sign.
In ‘Internet Ban in Kashmir’, the eyes, nose and mouth of the figure are sutured shut, showing the impact that ongoing internet shutdowns have had on the access to information and communication by the people of Kashmir.
Apples in Kashmir are renowned and symbolise the region’s natural resources and beauty. In the artwork, ‘Kashmiri Apple’, the fruit is anthropomorphised: as it is being skinned, it puts its hands up, yet continues to be sliced and subjugated by the sharp blade of the knife.
Mir’s other artworks focus on the plight of minorities in contemporary India, including Islamophobia and the narrowing space for expression of non-majoritarian ideas, communities and practices.
‘Hijab Ban’ alludes to the state-level ban introduced in several states in India targeting Muslim women who wear the hijab in educational institutions. The image shows microphones being directed towards a hijab-wearing student as a gesture to hear her voice. However, the saffron-coloured microphones are powered by barbed wire, alluding to the absence of free speech in India to discuss minority rights in majoritarian India without fear of recrimination.
Mir’s drawings make connections across different movements and contexts. In ‘Shaheen Bagh, Farmers Protest’, the tears of the bird of the Shaheen Bagh protests in Delhi (December 2019-March 2020) in challenging the exclusionary citizenship laws are depicted as watering the seeds of the farmers’ protest that were challenging new agricultural legislation. Thus, the struggles of previous movements are shown to inspire and nurture new movements showing solidarity and interconnection. The year-long occupation of Delhi’s borders successfully blocked new farm laws introduced by the government. However, this outcome was only possible because of movements of protest that preceded it.
Mir’s artworks are even more potent and poignant for the fact that such profound images are excluded from the mainstream print media; and worse, their proponents vilified for offering alternative views.
Mir’s work can be viewed on his Instagram page